Two seconds is not a lot of time. But it can mean the world. Just ask Officer Michael Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Two seconds was the difference between Ferguson resuming his 19-year career as a Mountie or going to prison for four years.
Ferguson's story begins in Pincher Creek, Alberta, a windswept small town below the Canadian Rockies. There, in the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 1999, Ferguson-who was the only law for 180 miles-was summoned to the hospital to investigate an assault.
Arriving at the hospital, Ferguson had to deal with Darren Varley and Rod Tuckey, who had been drinking much of the night into the early morning hours; they had been in a bar fight with some other men; and they alleged that they had been assaulted with a vehicle.
You can imagine what interviewing these guys was like for Ferguson.
Varley was really drunk, and he was agitated because his fiancée had left with some men he did not know. Ferguson tried to get Varley to calm down. He even tried to take a statement.
Varley was not helpful, and a scuffle ensued. Ferguson punched Varley, cuffed him, and arrested him for public intoxication.
Ferguson took Varley out to his car, put him in the back seat, and then he went back in the hospital to finish taking a statement from Tuckey. Left alone, Varley kicked out one of the cruiser's windows.
Varley was transported to the Pincher Creek RCMP Detachment. He didn't go to jail easily. The cell watchman who was on duty when Ferguson arrived with his prisoner testified that Varley was "resistive."
When Ferguson took Varley back to his cell, bad things happened. Varley managed to pull Ferguson's vest over the officer's head. Varley then attempted to grab Ferguson's gun. Ferguson wrested control of the gun away from his attacker and fired one round into Varley's abdomen. He then fired another shot into Varley's head, killing him.
The evidence shows that Ferguson acted in self-defense. He should have been cleared by the subsequent investigation. Instead, he was charged with second degree murder.
It took three trials-two resulted in hung juries- over five years before prosecutors managed to get a verdict in the case. The jury agreed with the prosecution that Ferguson's first shot was justified, but that the second shot, which occurred two seconds after the first, was not justified because Varley was no longer a threat. Even then, the jury reduced the charge to manslaughter.
Under Canadian sentencing guidelines, Officer Michael Ferguson faced a mandatory minimum of four years. The trial judge realized that giving a law officer four years in prison for killing in self-defense was cruel and unusual punishment. Accordingly, Ferguson was sentenced to two years less a day to be served in the community and 500 hours of community service. That's a ridiculous sentence for what was clearly self-defense, but it beats four years.
Unfortunately, an appeals court overturned the trial judge and, pending a final appeal, Ferguson is going to spend four years of his life in prison.
But not if Simunition co-founder and police trainer Ken Murray has anything to say about it. Murray, a Canadian, has made it his mission to help Ferguson. He argues that Ferguson was conditioned by RCMP training to fire two shots, that the RCMP did not provide Ferguson with competent counsel, and that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial. "Mike Ferguson was not tried by a jury of his peers...he was tried by a jury of men and women who know little to nothing of the horror of fighting over a loaded gun in a small room with a crazed and intoxicated individual," Murray wrote on his Website.
Murray is appealing to American and Canadian officers to lend their support to Ferguson's cause. His Website www.armiger.net contains an open letter to the Canadian government and details on how you can help Michael Ferguson RCMP. Take a few seconds of your time and help out a fellow cop.