Sex offender working with troubled teens in Washington County arrested for failure to register – St George News | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

File photo of officers on St. George Boulevard in, St. George, Utah, Feb. 1, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A suspect who spent years in prison in Hawaii with a lifetime sex offender registry requirement is currently jailed in Washington County facing multiple felony charges. The investigation leading to the arrest began with a report alleging the suspect was messaging an underaged juvenile in Tooele County.

Photo of 45-year-old Faavae Etiseli Tuinei, posted on the Utah Sex Offender Registry | Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Corrections, St. George News

On Wednesday, 45-year-old Faavae Etiseli Tuinei, of Salt Lake City, was transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility on a warrant issued by the 5th District Court for three third-degree felony counts of failing to register as a sex offender. 

The case was filed following an investigation that began on June 2, when St. George law enforcement was contacted by authorities in Tooele alleging that the suspect was communicating with a minor using on social media.  

According to charging documents, the Tooele Police Department tracked the suspect to an address in St. George while investigating the alleged misconduct.

The address turned out to be a St. George homeless shelter. When officers responded, they learned that Tuinei had submitted an application to stay at the homeless shelter in October, but was not eligible due to his status on the sex offender registry, court records stated.

St. George Police confirmed that the suspect was required to register as a sex offender for life — a provision that ordered following a prior conviction in Hawaii. On one violation, investigators discovered Tuinei had listed the shelter’s address as his place of residence despite not staying there.

Officers also discovered that Tuinei failed to register his social media accounts with the sex offender registry, a requirement for sex offenders, including the Facebook account reportedly used to communicate with the Tooele County teen.

Washington Police Department’s new building for operations and services, Washington City, Utah, Feb. 23, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Further, the suspect failed to register his place of employment — Lava Heights Academy in Toquerville. Had he done so, the report states, Utah Department of Corrections administrators would have contacted the youth treatment facility to inform them of Tuinei’s registered sex offender requirements. 

The statewide warrant was signed by 5th District Court of Utah Judge Jay Winward on June 15. Three days later, the suspect was booked into a Salt Lake County jail on a misdemeanor drug charge following his arrest at a homeless shelter. Officers reportedly found Tuinei in the act of using drugs when searching the restrooms. 

On Wednesday, Tuinei was returned to Southern Utah to face the current charges against him.

Washington City case

In February, officers were dispatched to the Washington City Community Center on a report that a former staff member, identified as Tuinei, had reportedly used a false name to gain employment. He was terminated 20 days later after the center discovered he was a registered sex offender, a review of court records shows.

Stock image | St. George News

Additionally, the report states, knowing he was a registered sex offender, Tuinei gained employment at the community center, which is designated as a “protected area,” due to the pool area that is frequented by children, the officer noted.

Following the suspect’s termination, the facility then contacted the Washington City Police Department to file a report. 

On Feb. 9, Tuinei was charged with one misdemeanor sex offender in a protected area violation. When he failed to appear a warrant was issued for his arrest on March 13.

He was arrested again on April 28 and pleaded guilty to the charge the following month. He was given credit for the 25 days in jail served and placed on bench probation for 12 months. On May 16, he was released from jail.

Within one month of Tuinei’s conditional release from Purgatory Correctional Facility for the Washington City charges, he was arrested in Salt Lake County. The defendant is scheduled to make an initial appearance in 5th District Court for the three felony charges filed by St. George Police on Friday. He remains in jail on $10,000 bail at the time this report was published.

Prior convictions

The information obtained  from the Utah Department of Corrections by officers in St. George refers to a 2013 conviction in a case in Hawaii that resulted in the lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender.

The case was filed in Hilo District Court involving two counts of violation of privacy in the first degree, charges that involve installing or using a hidden device to record others undressing or engaging in sexual activity. 

Tuinei was convicted after an investigation by the Hawaii Police Department that began on April 2, 2012, when officers responded to two separate reports of a man using a cell phone to record women in public restrooms. 

“Tuinei reportedly went into a women’s public bathroom in Hilo and used a cellular phone in a bathroom stall to record a 24-year-old woman using the bathroom in the next stall,” the police department statement said. 

2012 booking photo of Faavae Etiseli Tuinei, then age 34, taken in Hilo, Hawaii, April posted by Hawaii Police Department on April 4, 2012 | Photo courtesy of Hawaii Police Department, St. George News

When confronted by witnesses, the suspect fled from the area on foot. Less than an hour later, the Tuinei was seen recording a juvenile in a different restroom. Court records show stated that family of the youth detained the suspect until officers arrived to make the arrest.

Tuinei was held in jail on $20,000 bail and the case was filed in South Hilo District Court in Hawaii on April 3, 2012. 

Eight months later, Tuinei appeared in a Hilo District courtroom on Jan. 17, 2013, where the judge noted there were “aggravated factors present in the case” one of which involved the defendant’s criminal history from Samoa, where Tuinei lived prior to relocating to Hawaii. 

Based on those factors, the defendant was sentenced to serve a total of 10 years in prison, five years for each count ordered to be served consecutively. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. 

The defendant was released in 2020, after serving approximately seven years, according to the Hilo District Court docket.

Lava Heights Academy in Toquerville

St. George News reached out to Lava Heights Academy. A woman who stated she was the director but would not give her name said she could neither confirm or deny Tuinei’s employment at the facility.

In December of last year, a counselor working at Lava Heights, identified as 23-year-old Paul Anthony Nichols, was arrested after the Washington County Sheriff’s Office received a report alleging that two juvenile students at the facility were being abused.

Red Rock Canyon School located on St. George Boulevard in St. George, Utah, on July 10, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Investigators stated that three days into his employment, Nichols allegedly went into the girls’ restroom with one of the teens and sexually assaulted the youth. They also discovered a second student allegedly molested by the defendant.

Nichols later pleaded guilty to seven second-degree felony charges — five counts of forcible sexual abuse and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. On May 16, he was sentenced to serve  between 1-15 years in Utah State Prison on each of the counts ordered to run concurrently.

Lava Heights is owned by Sequel Youth and Family Services, which also owns Falcon Ridge Ranch, as well as two schools that are now closed, the Red Rock Canyon School in St. George and the Mount Pleasant Academy – a facility that had previously been the subject of lawsuits.

Following a riot at Red Rock Canyon School in April of 2019, the facility relinquished its license and ultimately closed its doors after numerous claims of sexual assault, violence and neglect by the the Utah Department of Human Services, as outlined in the original report published on June 4, 2019.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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