Retired Big Island Chief Fergerstrom
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
Retired Police Chief Ernest J. Fergerstrom, who battled drug dealers and politicians during his six-year tenure as head of the Big Island Police Department, died Tuesday at his Hilo home. He was 88.
The North Hilo native was commander of the Hamakua District when he was named chief in 1970. Under Fergerstrom's leadership, Big Island police launched the "Green Harvest" aerial attack on marijuana growers, using helicopters and National Guard troops to spot and uproot marijuana plants in previously unaccessible areas.
"The whole Green Harvest came at a time when the marijuana industry was going crazy," said son Dale Fergerstrom, 53, also a retired Big Island police officer. "There were murders directly related to turf wars, and there were big sections of land that hunters and other people couldn't even go into because of armed guards and booby traps. It had to be addressed."
The elder Fergerstrom tangled with Mayor Herbert Matayoshi and his appointees on the county Police Commission over department policies and administration. The Big Island Press Club got prosecutors to file a criminal complaint against the commission after they met in secret to discuss Fergerstrom's fate and replace him with Guy Paul, who had been passed over for the chief's position in 1970.
Fergerstrom finally resigned under pressure in April 1976. Paul would later become embroiled in a scandal over rigged promotions at the police department that led to a multimillion-dollar settlement against the county.
Retired Advertiser Big Island reporter Hugh Clark called Fergerstrom "a straight arrow who broke up the old-boy network" at the police department. Advertiser columnist David Shapiro, one of the reporters who brought the court action, said he was a "solid, honest guy" whose downfall came at the hands of Police Commission members who wanted Paul in as chief.
Fergerstrom was born Nov. 8, 1917, in Waipunalei at Laupahoehoe. He traveled by cattle boat to O'ahu to attend St. Louis College, now St. Louis School, where he was a football halfback of note, his son said.
As a Navy man, Fergerstrom witnessed the aftermath of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Dale Fergerstrom said his father was off base visiting his sister when the first wave of Japanese bombers attacked, and he rushed back to assist in the evacuation of casualties.
"His story was that he drove cars three days straight, picking up the wounded and later the dead, and when the car ran out of gas, they parked it on the side and picked up another car because the gas pumps weren't working," Dale Fergerstrom said.
He joined the Big Island police force in 1946, serving most of his career in the Hamakua District. He was a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
"He loved the police department, I think, just under his wife and family," said Dale Fergerstrom, who retired in 2000. "I think he really tried to be open and honest with his employees and with the public, too. One thing for sure is that he was a black-and-white guy. You knew exactly where he stood, and he had definite ideas about right and wrong, and got into trouble with politicians."
In addition to his son, Fergerstrom is survived by his wife, Florence "Flossie"; daughters Ann and Fay; a sister, Florence Wanic; brothers Robert and Herman; five grandsons and a great-granddaughter.
Visitation will begin at 6 p.m. Monday at Dodo Mortuary in Hilo, continuing at 9 a.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph Church, with a Mass at 10:30 a.m. and burial at noon at the Veterans Cemetery.
Reach Christie Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A typographical error changed the meaning of a quote by Dale Fergerstrom in a previous version of this story.