Hoh tribal officer charged with third-degree rape of a child

FORKS — A Hoh tribal law enforcement officer charged with having an ongoing sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl in the West End of Clallam and Jefferson counties appeared in Jefferson County Superior Court on Thursday.

Fisheries Enforcement Officer Ernest Allen Penn, 43, was charged Wednesday, prior to his arrest in Forks, with third-degree rape of a child and communication with a minor for immoral purposes in Jefferson County.

In Clallam County, he was charged with five counts of third-degree rape of a child and one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

Penn was ordered held on $50,000 bail and will appear in Jefferson County Superior Court March 22 for his arraignment.

It wasn’t clear when he would appear in Clallam County Superior Court.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office led a multi-agency tactical operation Wednesday afternoon, arresting Penn at the Forks Aquatic Center without incident, said Detective Shane Stevenson.

Law enforcement from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Port Townsend Police Department, Forks Police Department, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and a K-9 unit from the Bremerton Police Department arrested Penn in the parking lot as he was preparing to go to the gym, Stevenson said.

“The effort that was utilized was to do it in such a way that he would not be armed or he was the least likely to be armed and in a way that would be safe for him and all involved,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said Penn had made suicidal threats and made comments that he would rather kill himself than go to jail. Paramedics from East Jefferson Fire-Rescue and a Department of Homeland Security Air and Marine Operations helicopter were available just in case, he said.

Stevenson said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office did not inform the Hoh Tribe of the case until after the arrest. The Sheriff’s Office returned his department-issued items to the tribe, Stevenson said.

When asked about Penn’s arrest, Hoh Executive Director Bob Smith said “no comment.”

It was not clear whether Penn remains employed.

Law enforcement became aware of the ongoing sexual relationship after a Grant County man was arrested in Forks in January for investigation of making threats to kill Penn, court records say.

When police arrested that man for investigation of felony harassment, he had a firearm with him. He has since been charged with felony harassment.

He told law enforcement that Penn had been making romantic sexual advances toward the girl and that he believed Penn raped her several years ago, records say.

Records say the man admitted to law enforcement that he said he was going to “kill an Indian cop” but said he didn’t mean it. He said he was going to confront Penn to ask “What the [expletive] was going on.”

Following that arrest, the now 16-year-old girl told law enforcement that she had an ongoing sexual relationship with Penn, records say.

The girl told law enforcement the long-term sexual relationship started around October 2017 when she was 15.

She said they met at a gym and exchanged cellphone numbers so they could go hunting together.

That led to them going hunting together, alone, south of Forks in Jefferson County, record say. After she shot a deer, Penn parked his truck and they had sex, court records say.

Court records say that after the hunting trip they would regularly have sex outside his home in Forks. The girl said they would have sex outside the home because his children were inside, records say.

Penn later moved out of that home, where a woman and his children lived, to live alone, records say.

Text messages show that Penn would text her while he was on duty as a Hoh Tribal Officer and he would describe the work he was doing, records say.

About three months ago the girl began distancing herself from Penn, telling investigators that she wanted to focus on school and sports and not worry about getting caught.

She said that Penn told her he wouldn’t go to jail and that he would probably kill himself. He also told her he would kill himself if she left him, she said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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