Duluth man, accused of sexually assaulting multiple girls, committed as 'mentally ill and dangerous'

Shaun Ferguson "continues to hold attitudes supportive of gaining status over others and using individuals of the female gender to accomplish this," a psychologist said.

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DULUTH — A man who is suspected of sexually assaulting at least six underage girls has been deemed a “mentally ill and dangerous” person and will be committed to a state hospital.

Shaun Antonio Ferguson, 28, of Duluth, currently faces 18 felony counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, use of a minor in a sexual performance and possession of child pornography, all related to one victim.

Shaun Antonio Ferguson.jpg
Shaun Antonio Ferguson

However, court documents allege that he has habitually preyed on teenage girls, particularly those who are most vulnerable, and has committed hundreds of violations of harassment restraining orders — often from the confines of the St. Louis County Jail.

Ferguson late last year was found incompetent to proceed in criminal court, prompting a request from the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office to place him under the state’s most restrictive level of mental health treatment.

Ferguson, who was given multiple diagnoses and has previously been committed as developmentally disabled, admitted to the petition and agreed to the designation because he “wants to get help so that he does not hurt other people, either intentionally or unintentionally.”


The ruling does not preclude the possibility that Ferguson may eventually still face a multitude of criminal charges and prison time, but the temporary commitment, if extended, may keep him in a security facility long-term.

‘Given the severity of (Ferguson’s) mental illness, his significant history of engaging (in) criminal sexual conduct with vulnerable, underage females, his significant lack of insight into the risk he poses to juvenile females, and the opinions of (two psychologists), the court is convinced there is a substantial likelihood that respondent will engage in acts capable of inflicting serious physical harm on another, particularly vulnerable, underage girl,” Judge Sally Tarnowski wrote in the order earlier this month.

Documents allege stalking behavior, assaults

Court documents indicate that Duluth police executed a search warrant on Ferguson’s iCloud storage account in January 2022, finding multiple videos and photos of the then-26-year-old engaging in sexual acts with a 14-year-old.

The victim also confirmed the authenticity to police, according to a criminal complaint. The victim’s mother reportedly described her as being “groomed” by Ferguson, who left gifts on her doorstep and continued to pursue a relationship despite being told to stay away.

A harassment restraining order was in place against Ferguson at the time of the alleged sexual assaults, and the mother reported that he had “gotten more bold and violent,” choking the victim, hiding in the bushes outside her home and going to her school to intercept her after she tried to end contact.

After he was arrested and charged in June, Ferguson allegedly continued to seek out the victim, placing upwards of 50 phone calls and text messages to the protected party on a daily basis from jail.

Police also have been investigating other reports of sexual assault. Court documents state that one 15-year-old told a social worker she engaged in sexual intercourse with Ferguson after she ran away from a juvenile correctional facility. A child under 16 lacks the legal ability to grant consent under Minnesota law.

Another mother reported that her 14-year-old daughter had been raped by Ferguson, according to the commitment order. The girl went on to tell investigators that there were multiple instances of sexual assault and said she was afraid Ferguson was “gunna get me.” The defendant allegedly denied any sexual activity, claiming the girl was only in his apartment to purchase marijuana.


Another alleged victim, 14, reportedly told police that she had sex with Ferguson “more times than she could count.” She initially denied it when the allegations were reported by a foster parent, but she later came forward and said she had been scared because she was still “in a relationship” with him.

Documents state the girl went on to tell police that the relationship ended when Ferguson kicked her in the stomach after finding out that she was pregnant with another man’s child. She also reported that Ferguson previously put a gun to her head, hit her in the head with a bottle, punched her for “no reason” and threatened to kill her if she ever left his apartment, among other incidents.

Another girl, described as a 15-year-old who had been “in and out of foster care,” told police that Ferguson had picked up her and another minor at a convenience store, according to the commitment order. She said they then went to his downtown apartment and he sexually assaulted her.

At least one other victim, 15, also told police that she had engaged in sexual intercourse with Ferguson, according to police reports cited in court.

'Seeking status over others' to compensate for illness

Court records show Ferguson currently faces 81 criminal and traffic offenses across 32 separate cases dating as far back as 2017.

Most significant are the sexual assault and child pornography counts, but he also faces 18 counts of violating a harassment restraining order. Additional charges include fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance and possession of a pistol without a permit.

When Ferguson first underwent a mental health evaluation, at the request of his defense attorney, prosecutor Tony Rubin expressed concern about the defendant’s “potential malingering.”

“Records show he has been able to live on his (own) for the past few years,” he told the court. “He has demonstrated a level of savvy in his dealings with government social workers and law enforcement. He has also been accused of a number of very serious crimes.”


However, three independent evaluators all concluded Ferguson was not sufficiently able to understand the criminal proceedings and participate in his own defense, leading to Judge Dale Harris ruling him incompetent in November.

Two psychologists, Paul Reitman and Sara Vaccarella, went on to opine that he is a “person who poses a risk of harm due to mental illness.”

The commitment order says Reitman diagnosed Ferguson with autism, depression, severe learning disabilities, intermittent explosive disorder and mild mental retardation. Vaccarella also diagnosed him with a sexual coercion-related disorder and said there is a high risk of him committing serious physical harm in the future.

“Mr. Ferguson has significant internalized shame and inadequacy due to his learning and cognitive needs, which has resulted in him seeking status over others to compensate,” Vaccarella wrote. “He continues to hold attitudes supportive of gaining status over others and using individuals of the female gender to accomplish this.”

Ferguson previously had a number of criminal charges dismissed — including for the aggravated robbery of a pizza delivery driver — after he was civilly committed from 2016-19. But Judge Tarnowski noted he was difficult to manage in less-restrictive settings — absconding from treatment on 10 separate occasions.

Ferguson remained at the St. Louis County Jail on Friday, awaiting placement at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center for an initial evaluation period of 60 days.

If the court decides to extend the commitment, there would be no set end date. Those found to be mentally ill and dangerous can spend years or even decades in a secure facility, gaining release only if and when recommended by doctors and approved by a judge.

Under an agreement with the county attorney’s office, Ferguson’s past conduct will not be the basis for any petition to have him committed as a sexually dangerous person — the designation that often results in a lifetime stay at the MInnesota Sex Offender Program.


However, any future instances of criminal sexual conduct may result in attorneys seeking that placement, with his past conduct considered relevant.

Rubin also filed notice that he intends to resume prosecution of Ferguson’s criminal matters in the event he is restored to competency.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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