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Deputy sheriff accused of sex assault pleads not guilty

    Deputy Sheriff Benjamin Fonoti pleaded not guilty this moring at his arraignment in Circuit Court . He is accused of having sexwith female prisoner in District Court cellblock. His attorney, Eric Seitz, is at right.

A 30-year-old state deputy sheriff, accused of sexually assaulting a woman while she was in custody last year, entered a plea of not guilty this morning in Circuit Court.

A grand jury indicted Benjamin Fonoti Thursday for the second-degree and third-degree sexual assault for an incident that allegedly occurred on Oct. 10, 2011.

Fonoti, represented by attorney Eric Seitz, appeared before Circuit Judge Richard Perkins this morning.

Perkins slated the week of June 18 for his trial before Circuit Judge Ed Kubo.

More than two dozen of Fonoti’s family crowded into Perkin’s courtroom to show support for the deputy sheriff.

Seitz declined to comment.

Fonoti voluntarily tuned himself in Thursday and was booked by the sheriff’s department at its Kakaako station and released after posting $11,000 bail.

According to the two-page indictment, the victim performed a sexual act on Fonoti while she was in his custody in the cellblock in District Court.

He has been with the state Department of Public Safety since 2009. A department spokeswoman said an internal investigation was initiated after the department learned about the alleged incident.

Fonoti will be the second Department of Pubic Safety law enforcement official facing serious criminal charges in this month.

Damon Pavao, a 49-year-old watch commander at the Waiawa Correctional Facility, pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree reckless endangering, promotion of a dangerous drug and possession of drug paraphernalia at an April 5 arraignment in Circuit Court. He is free after posting $25,000 bail.  Pavao’s trial is slated to begin the week of June 4 before Circuit Judge Randal Lee.

Pavao, who is charged with firing a pistol and a shotgun in his Pearl City home, said he was “testing his friend’s gun” by shooting at the ground and at chickens in his backyard, according to police affidavits filed in Circuit Court. Police found 25 spent 9 millimeter cartridge casings and four spent 12-gauge shotgun shells at Pavao’s home.

Pavao has been with the Department of Public Safety since 1998.  He was promoted to sergeant in 2003 and elevated to lieutenant last year.


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