CHARLESTON — A Wayne County magistrate facing multiple violations of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct could soon be disciplined after a recent hearing stemming from a 2017 incident concerning his father, a missing man and too many trout.
According to charges filed by the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission, they determined that probable cause existed to formally charge David E. Ferguson with multiple violations and that formal discipline is appropriate.
On April 9, 2018, a complaint was filed against Ferguson by Division of Natural Resources Capt. Terry A. Ballard regarding a Feb. 21, 2017, incident that occurred while Ferguson, his father and another man were fishing at East Lynn Lake spillway on trout stocking day.
According to court documents, Ferguson was stopped by a plain-clothed DNR officer that day for exceeding the daily creel limit for trout. When the group had finished fishing, Cpl. Larry Harvey directed an officer to intercept the trio and to inform them that a violation had been committed.
In addition to exceeding the limit of trout he was allowed to catch, Ferguson allegedly broke their necks and placed them in the water near his feet instead of releasing them, and illegally gave some to his father and at least one fish to the other man.
Officer Jacob Miller walked the group to their truck, where he collected IDs and fishing licenses and handed them to Harvey before returning to his post at the spillway.
In his answer to formal charges, Ferguson argued that the DNR officers should have been in uniform, not plain clothes, questioning what authority they had out of uniform, and said he believes he did not break the law by giving away trout he caught after having reached the legal limit he could keep that day.
According to court documents, Harvey identified himself to the three men, then telling them “not to move” while he retrieved paperwork and citations from a picnic table approximately 100 yards away.
When he came back, the third man was gone and it was discovered that he had never provided identification to Miller. Ferguson and his father “refused to provide” the missing man’s identification and “maintained that they did not know who Corporal Harvey was talking about,” according to the criminal complaint.
The man was later identified as 80-year-old Lindsey Napier, as stated in Ferguson’s formal response to the charges. He denied that Napier was fishing with them, and said he had arrived and left on his own accord and will testify that he did not come with the Fergusons.
Ferguson then demanded Harvey prove that they had caught more than the legal limit of trout, prompting him to look in the back of the truck where the fish were located. Harvey discovered some of the fish caught were missing and the amount of fish remaining was within the legal limit.
Court documents state that Ferguson and his father then “became belligerent, raised their voices, started to swing their arms while yelling and refused to follow Corporal Harvey’s commands.”
Ferguson admitted in his answer to formal charges that the elder Ferguson was visibly upset, but he was not. Court documents stated that the two approached Harvey at a picnic table where he was writing citations because he did not feel he could safely do it at the truck. Ferguson denied getting out of the truck and going to the table.
On March 10, 2017, Ferguson pleaded no contest to exceeding the limit for trout, and in exchange for that plea, the charge for illegal possession of trout was dropped by the prosecutor.
The West Virginia Supreme Court heard the case Tuesday and could issue a decision on the case later this week.