State settles lawsuit with woman who says she was coerced into sex with ISP detective

Idaho State Police headquarters in Meridian.
Idaho State Police headquarters in Meridian. Idaho Statesman file

Idaho State Police have settled a federal lawsuit filed by an Eastern Idaho woman who claimed she was coerced into sex with a detective investigating her as part of a federal drug case.

When federal prosecutors learned about the allegation, they said they were forced to drop their case.

The state paid $27,000 to settle the case, according to Bron Rammell, the attorney for plaintiff Ashlyn Moreno. The Idaho Office of Risk Management handles most lawsuits filed against state agencies; its records indicated $24,000 was paid.

Moreno, who sued ISP detective Ryan Blackhawk in August 2015, also alleged ISP illegally placed a GPS tracking device on a vehicle she was driving and illegally detained and arrested her.

When the lawsuit was filed, Idaho State Police had already fired Blackhawk after conducting an internal investigation into his actions.

“We entrust our personnel with great responsibilities and we hold them to very high standards of conduct, both on- and off-duty,”spokesman Tim Marsano told the Statesman on Wednesday. “A thorough investigation into this matter was called for when we learned of the accusations against this former ISP detective. Once that investigation was complete, we were confident that severing our ties with the individual was the right thing to do. We will always hold our personnel accountable for their actions.”

The settlement was filed Monday. Rammell, of Pocatello, said he could offer no further details on the particulars due to a confidentiality agreement, but said his client only chose to settle because she is dealing with a serious illness.

More about the case

Moreno was facing indictment on federal drug charges. Blackhawk, based in Bannock County, was an investigator in the case, according to court documents.

Moreno contacted Blackhawk on Oct. 15, 2013, “for information on what would happen to her and to ask for help.” That day Blackhawk picked up Moreno in his ISP vehicle and drove her around discussing the case. Moreno says Blackhawk implied he “had a lot of ties” and could help her.

Later that day, Blackhawk texted Moreno “sexually charged and suggestive messages” and arranged to meet her again to discuss her federal charges, the suit says. Moreno said she was helpless, confused and manipulated by Moreno and “felt compelled to engage in sexual intercourse with him.” She claims the encounter took place in his patrol vehicle while parked in an ISP parking lot.

“Before Blackhawk let Ms. Moreno out of the ISP vehicle, he threatened Ms. Moreno that if she told anyone what happened he would ruin her life, she would be arrested and she would not get out of jail,” her complaint alleges.

Around this time, Moreno’s suit says, Blackhawk was testifying before a federal grand jury regarding Moreno. She was indicted on methamphetamine charges a week after she met with Blackhawk.

In her complaint, she said that after the U.S. Attorney’s Office learned of Blackhawk’s conduct, it dismissed the federal drug charges against her.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office did dismiss its indictment against Moreno and four other defendants, stating in court documents that “it is in the interest of justice to do so at this time.”

“Basically that means we determined we cannot go forward with the prosecution,” then-U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson told the Statesman in August 2015, when Moreno filed her federal lawsuit. “Typically we do not provide an explanation beyond that when we dismiss for those reasons.”

Idaho State Police then conducted an internal investigation, which found that Blackhawk violated ISP procedures. ISP terminated Blackhawk’s employment on May 27, 2015, about 14 months after the federal criminal case was dismissed.

ISP said its internal investigation found that no other ISP employees violated procedure.

CORRECTION: The amount paid in the settlement has been updated.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell