Hilton Head Island Town Councilman Bill Ferguson pleaded guilty Friday to misdemeanor criminal domestic violence and agreed to complete anger-management counseling to avoid jail.
The charge stems from an argument between Ferguson and his wife at their home in January. Ferguson, 63, who has served on Town Council since 1993, had been charged with felony high and aggravated criminal domestic violence. He pleaded guilty in Beaufort County Magistrate Court to a lesser charge of misdemeanor criminal domestic violence, first offense, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. The sentence and fine are suspended, under the plea agreement with the S.C. Attorney General's Office.
Asked during the hearing by Magistrate Nancy Sadler to confirm he was admitting guilt, Ferguson responded, "I am not guilty. I never hit, or whatever, my wife, and I have no choice in the matter."
Ferguson then had a private discussion with his attorney, William G. Jenkins Jr.
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The magistrate questioned Ferguson again.
"Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
Assistant attorney general Mardi Smith Fair said counseling instead of jail was recommended because Ferguson and his wife -- who have been married 33 years and have three children, ages 19, 29 and 36 -- still live together and "wish to work things out." Ferguson's wife, Linda, a teacher at Michael C. Riley Elementary School in Bluffton, faces a charge of misdemeanor criminal domestic violence related to the incident, according to a county Magistrate Court administrator.
Linda Ferguson said during the hearing she wants her husband to undergo counseling instead of going to jail.
The plea also means Ferguson cannot own or possess guns or ammunition. His attorney said Ferguson has gotten rid of his firearms.
Ferguson declined to comment after the hearing.
Sheriff's deputies arrived at the Ferguson home at about 9 p.m. Jan. 10 after receiving a call from Ferguson's son that his father had a shotgun and his mother was in the home. Ferguson eventually emerged after his wife had come out safely.
Town Council members on Friday seemed ready to put the incident behind them.
"I think the whole thing got overblown," Mayor Drew Laughlin said from the council's workshop. "Is it a good thing (for a councilman to admit guilt to domestic violence)? No, obviously. But I'd rather talk about Coligny, Shelter Cove, Chaplin Linear Park and the rec center."
Councilman George Williams Jr. also wasn't interested in discussing Ferguson's case.
"To me, it's a personal issue, and that's how it should stay," he said.
Town attorney Brian Hulbert said town ordinance does not address removal of council members from office. Hulbert said he also does not believe a conviction for criminal domestic violence would be grounds for removal under state law.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.
- Hilton Head Councilman Ferguson to attend domestic-violence hearing: Dec. 1, 2011
- Ferguson apologizes for accosting fellow council member, cites health problems for his actions, April 19, 2011
- Island Councilman Bill Ferguson attacks colleague, disrupts meeting, curses, leaves, April 5, 2011
- Ferguson returns to island council after hospital stay, May 25, 2011
- The two sides of Hilton Head councilman Bill Ferguson, March 18, 2011
- Mayor takes councilman off committee while charges are pending, Feb. 16, 2011
- Long-time Hilton Head council member Bill Ferguson, wife charged with domestic violence, Jan. 11, 2011