Hilton Head Island Town Council member Bill Ferguson and his wife, Linda Ferguson, were charged with criminal domestic violence late Monday, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report.
Ferguson vowed he would not resign and that he and his wife "will be vindicated," a day after his son called 911 and told authorities his father was wielding a shotgun and threatening his mother.
Deputies arrived at the Ferguson home at 634 William Hilton Parkway at about 9 p.m., shortly after a call from Willie "B.J." Ferguson. They got Linda Ferguson outside the house, set up a perimeter, and called Bill Ferguson by phone and told him to come outside with his hands where they could see them, the report said. He complied. Deputies detected a strong odor of alcohol on him, the report said. Bill Ferguson was then handcuffed.
Deputies heard conflicting accounts of events preceding their arrival from Bill Ferguson, his son and wife, the report said.
Bill Ferguson, who has represented Ward 1 on Town Council since 1993, was charged with felony criminal domestic violence high and aggravated. Linda Ferguson, a teacher at M.C. Riley Elementary School, was charged with misdemeanor criminal domestic violence.
The couple were released from the Beaufort County Detention Center on their own recognizance.
Ferguson Jr., 28, a firefighter and paramedic with Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division, said he got a call from his mother asking him to come to the house because "her husband was drunk and was threatening her with a gun," the report said.
When he arrived, he said in the report, his parents were seated in chairs and arguing. His father had a shotgun on his lap. Both Bill and Linda Ferguson told their son they had done nothing wrong, the report said. Ferguson Jr. asked his father to give him the shotgun, but he refused. Ferguson Jr. then went outside to call 911 and waited in the front yard for deputies to arrive. He said his mother went into the master bedroom to hide, according to the report.
Linda Ferguson, 57, told deputies she came home, found her husband sleeping and began to cook dinner. At some point, she said, she confronted him about his drinking, and he pointed a pistol at her. She said she fought him to get the gun away by biting, kicking and punching him. She told him she was going to call their son. Bill Ferguson then went to get a shotgun. She said she was afraid he'd shoot her, according to the report.
Bill Ferguson, 63, told deputies he and his wife have had "marital problems" for the past four years. His wife was arguing with him about his drinking, and he told her to leave. She refused and began to punch him on his body and face and bite and scratch his chest, according to the report.
He told deputies he pushed her to the ground to subdue her. He said he went to get his pistol only for protection and did not threaten his wife. She said she was going to call their son. He said that's when he got the shotgun, because he wanted it for protection against his son, according to the report.
Deputies saw what appeared to be bite marks on Bill Ferguson's chest, stomach, eyebrow and lip. Initially, Ferguson cooperated with officers, but later refused to have his injuries photographed and said he would make trouble for the Sheriff's Office, according to the report.
Linda Ferguson did not have any injuries, the report said. If convicted, she faces a fine of between $1,000 and $2,500 or up to 30 days in jail, according to Daniel Brownstein, a 14th Circuit Court Solicitor's Office spokesman.
Bill Ferguson will face a Beaufort County grand jury in February, according to 14th Circuit Court Solicitor Duffie Stone. If convicted, he faces one to 10 years in prison.
Beaufort County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said the Sheriff's Office has not had any other reports of similar incidents at the Ferguson home or involving the couple.
COUNCILMAN WON'T RESIGN
Ferguson declined to comment about Monday night's altercation, referring all questions to his attorney. He said he will not resign from the Town Council and should not have to.
"I have been up and down all of my life and have had my bruises," Ferguson said. "And I guarantee you, once it all comes to light, my wife and I will be vindicated."
Town Council members reached by phone Tuesday said they were shocked by Ferguson's arrest. None said it was grounds to seek his removal from council.
"It's sad news. It's sad for him and his family and it's sad for the town," said Councilman Bill Harkins by phone from Florida. "I am totally surprised."
Mayor Drew Laughlin said he believes the matter is a personal one between Ferguson and his wife, and council should not get involved.
"The whole thing is unfortunate. I consider Bill a colleague and him and Linda to be friends. I would expect to continue to work with Bill on council as I always have," Laughlin said. "Based on what I've heard ... it doesn't give me any reason to think Bill should be removed."
Town manager Steve Riley said "uniformly, we are sad for Bill, sad for Linda and sad for the Ferguson family. He's been a strong advocate for Ward 1 on Town Council and has helped shape town policy along the way."
Town attorney Brian Hulbert said town ordinance does not address removal of council members from office. State statute addresses removal for a crime of moral turpitude and misconduct in office, he said.
A 1981 opinion from the state attorney general, though, says municipal councils have the inherent authority to remove a member for cause. Hulbert said he does not believe there is sufficient grounds to remove Ferguson from office.
"Again, he's presumed innocent. We have to take great caution when looking to remove an elected official. It would take something substantial," Hulbert said. "I'm not sure there is enough to give council cause to take action. Council could disagree."
Ferguson, a native islander, is the council's longest-serving member and its only minority. He was first elected in 1993 to represent the north end's Ward 1, where many native islanders have property. His term expires in December 2012.
Ferguson ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the general election Nov. 2. He was one of seven candidates and received about 5 percent of the vote, according to official results.
Ferguson often has been at odds with other council members.
In 1998, he threatened to resign, saying he was treated like a "token Negro" -- one of several accusations of racism he has made. He also threatened to file a lawsuit against the town for not hiring enough blacks.
He became active in developing the Ward 1 Master Plan and spoke against the consolidation of the three public service districts. Recently, he has advocated affordable housing and better sewer service.
Concerns were raised in 2008 about Ferguson's absence from meetings because of health problems. More recently, he missed parts of a Town Council planning workshop in December because of surgery.
Ferguson, who is retired, served in Vietnam and later managed a food and beverage business. He established a landscape company, the Island Gardener, in 1984 and Ferguson Community Development Co.
His wife, Linda, teaches reading and writing to students with limited English proficiency at M.C. Riley Elementary School in Bluffton, according to the school's website. A spokesperson said the district is looking into Monday's incident.
CHANGE IN PROSECUTION SOUGHT
Stone, the solicitor, said his office sent a request to the S.C. Attorney General's Office asking that it prosecute Bill Ferguson's case because he is a town councilman.
Council votes on part of the Solicitor's Office budget, Stone said, and it is routine for the state to accept prosecution on cases involving charges against a public official. Bill Ferguson would still be prosecuted in Beaufort County, he said.
"The Town of Hilton Head is a funding source for the office, and accordingly, I don't think it will be proper for my office to prosecute him," Stone said. "I don't know what the state's timeline would be, but the procedure would be the same."
Spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh wrote in an e-mail Tuesday that the Sheriff's Office had not been contacted by Bill Ferguson.
According to the incident report: "Ferguson stated several times he was a Hilton Head Town Councilman and he was going to make sure BCSO's contract to patrol Hilton Head Island was not renewed."
Sheriff P.J. Tanner issued a statement through McIntosh that any statements made by Ferguson about the Sheriff's Office won't affect his department's handling of the case.