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April 2, 2019

Town policeman not guilty in local bar assault case

Warrenton Police Officer Carl M. Ferguson accidentally broke Kristen M. Abshire’s nose last fall when the two engaged in horseplay during a retirement party at a local bar.
The court finds Ms. Abshire’s testimony compelling in that the parties were apparently engaged in horseplay and that she believed the defendant did not intend to strike her forcefully.
— Judge J. Gregory Ashwell
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Fauquier’s General District Court judge on Monday acquitted a Warrenton police officer charged with assault and battery of a woman at a local bar last fall.

The Sept. 19 incident — involving six off-duty town police officers — took place at Fat Tuesday’s in the Warrenton Village Shopping Center. 

After investigating the matter, State Police Special Agent Kevin S. Newland on Dec. 6 charged Warrenton Officer Carl M. Ferguson with the misdemeanor.

The officers reportedly started a retirement celebration at Gainesville bar before the party moved to Warrenton. All of them — except Cpl. Christopher Campbell, the designated driver — had been drinking.

Testifying in general district court Friday, witnesses told Judge J. Gregory Ashwell that Officer Carl M. Ferguson and Kristen M. Abshire engaged in horseplay that resulted in fracturing her nose.

Largely because of the circumstances, “the facts of the case do not suggest an assault,” Judge J. Gregory Ashwell concluded in an April 1, three-page ruling.

“The court finds Ms. Abshire’s testimony compelling in that the parties were apparently engaged in horseplay and that she believed (Officer Ferguson) did not intend to strike her forcefully,” Judge Ashwell wrote.

“The striking was at most negligent or accidental, and as such, cannot be the basis of a criminal conviction.”

Officer Ferguson, 47, and Ms. Abshire, 22, “began to play-act, as if they were engaged in some type of hand-to-hand combat — feigning jabs and punches and hand-slapping,” Judge Ashwell wrote.

During Friday’s 54-minute trial, seven people testified, including the defendant, the victim and her friend who joined her at the bar and three Warrenton police officers who attended the party.

Other than Cpl. Campbell, the officers and “both ladies were admittedly or apparently under the influence of alcohol to some degree,” Judge Ashwell wrote.

Ms. Abshire testified that she and Officer Ferguson had been “playing around” when he struck her with his right hand.

The victim described the blow as unintentional and testified that Mr. Ferguson apologized to her afterward. Ms. Abshire accepted his offer to pay her bar tab.

Ms. Abshire testified that the officer asked if she intended to press charges against him and that she had no intention of doing so. Under oath, Mr. Ferguson denied posing the question.

Ms. Abshire testified that an X-ray a week after the incident showed a nose fracture and that “all she really wanted out of this proceeding is compensation” for the costs related to the incident.

Those expenses refer to medical bills and her broken cell phone.

Cpl. Campbell testified that he saw Mr. Ferguson “land a right jab, with a closed fist, which contacted Abshire’s face,” Judge Ashwell wrote.

The prosecutor, Loudoun Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Angela Vernail, challenged Mr. Ferguson’s account.

Because the county commonwealth’s attorney deals with the Warrenton Police Department, Fauquier’s circuit court appointed a special prosecutor for the Ferguson case.

Based on Cpl. Campbell’s testimony, Ms. Vernail concluded that Mr. Ferguson leaned toward the victim, used a “closed fist” and thus deliberately delivered the blow. 

Judge Ashwell questioned the prosecutor’s interpretation of the corporal’s comments. Because of that, the judge on Friday decided to review the transcript of the officer’s testimony before ruling on the case.

The corporal “immediately went to render first aid and suggested that Ferguson walk away,” Judge Ashwell wrote, summarizing the officer’s testimony.

But, Cpl. Campbell “apparently did not hear the conversation about Abshire’s martial arts background nor he did notice the shadow boxing” and playful nature of the encounter, the judge stated.

“The facts of the case do not suggest an assault,” concluded Judge Ashwell, citing case law on the subject.

He added: “The striking was at most negligent or accidental, and as such, cannot be the basis of a criminal conviction.”

The case took an unusual turn Dec. 6, when Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher announced he had authorized an assault and battery charge against Mr. Ferguson.

Mr. Fisher’s press release also described a plea agreement.

“We have been in contact with Ferguson and his attorney as well as the victim’s lawyer,” Mr. Fisher wrote. “After close consultation with the victim in this matter, we have agreed to permit her to accept civil satisfaction pursuant to Virginia’s accord and satisfaction statute.”

“The victim was more interested in receiving compensation for medical bills for her broken nose and broken mobile phone, which was damaged during the incident, than obtaining a conviction in the case, which is what this particular law allows.”

The prosecutor also stated Mr. Ferguson would resign from the police department effective Dec. 31.

The press release stunned Mr. Ferguson and his lawyer, Scott C. Hook.

But, at the time, Mr. Hook refused to say whether the prosecutor’s prepared statement prompted his client to contest the misdemeanor charge.

“He’s trying to vindicate his reputation,” Mr. Hook said of his client’s decision to let a judge decide the case. “We thought at this point it was right and proper to take this case to trial.” 

Mr. Ferguson joined the Warrenton department as a patrol officer in May 2016. He previously worked 13-1/2 years in the Fairfax County Police Department — the last six years as a detective. Before that, the Marine Corps veteran served 7-1/2 years as a Prince William County patrol officer.

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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Truepat · April 3, 2019 at 6:56 am
Is it possible that Ms. Abhsires felony arrest for a controlled substance on 05/23/18 have any affect on the outcome? Case Number : GC18000873-00
watching_warrenton · April 2, 2019 at 9:34 pm
BeansNLice,
https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Darwin Awards
Are you serious? You must have wanted to be a police officer at one time but couldn't get hired. Police officers have a tough job that I wouldn't want to do. Are there officers that are idiots? Of course there are officers with bad attitudes that shouldn't be officers but I appreciate what they do. Just look at the hatred you display towards police officers. Why wouldn't they have a bad attitude? You support someone going to jail for 20 years over horseplay just because he's a police officer? Your belief in itself disqualifies you from a common sense debate.
Rover 530 · April 2, 2019 at 7:55 pm
Did "BeansNRice" just call for Ferguson to die! That's harsh.
BeansNRice · April 2, 2019 at 6:58 pm
Amen. Hopefully the cop gets a Darwin Award soon.
Mark House · April 2, 2019 at 4:54 pm
Then why in the heck did she get a lawyer, who now is richer because of these people messing around in a bar. Only charge should have been idiots of the year awards!
Therealstories · April 2, 2019 at 11:16 am
Great Job, Scott Hook! Glad James Fisher is on his way out.
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