Jury convicts Ferris of misdemeanor charges

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Tom Ferris, center, exchanges looks with his attorney, Jack Morris (left), as the jury finds him guilty of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse for incidents at the March 2019 UMW vs. Carroll College women’s basketball game. Also pictured is County Attorney Jed C. Fitch, right. Casey S. Elliott photo

Editor’s Note: Profanity is used in this story.

A jury decided Twin Bridges resident Tom Ferris was not guilty of assaulting Dillon Police Chief Don Guiberson at the March 2019 Frontier Conference women’s basketball championship game, but convicted him of three misdemeanor charges tied to his conduct.

The jury returned the verdict Thursday evening after more than four hours of deliberation, and four lengthy days of testimony.

Ferris was charged with felony assault on a peace officer; and misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest, failure of a disorderly person to disperse and disorderly conduct in Fifth Judicial District Court last year. He faces up to 190 days in jail time and up to $700 total in fines for the three misdemeanor charges. Sentencing will occur at a later date.

“Mr. Ferris thanks the jury for this exoneration,” Ferris’ attorney, Jack Morris, said after the jury’s decision. “He regrets any disruption in the lives of his friends and family, as he takes time to recover mentally and financially from this witch hunt.”

Morris added, “The verdict speaks for itself.”

Guiberson and County Attorney Jed C. Fitch thanked the jury for its work.

“I respect the court system and the jury’s decision. Competitors, spectators and officials should be able to enjoy sporting events without concern. I hope all can move forward,” Guiberson said.

“I appreciate the wisdom of the jury,” Fitch added.

The incident

Over 40 witnesses – including Ferris and Guiberson – spoke to what they saw, giving a rough outline of the last two quarters in particular. There were two altercations that evening, with the second resulting in Ferris’ arrest and Guiberon’s injury.

According to testimony, the March 4, 2019 UMW vs. Carroll College women’s basketball game was raucous – wild and loud – and packed with fervent fans watching a game that was close through most of the night. At one point late in the game, some Carroll fans stood up after a particularly tight play, refusing to sit down after being asked several times by Western fans behind them. Ferris was sitting near them.

Ferris and the Carroll fans argued back and forth, witnesses said. Both the Carroll fans and Ferris sat down as UMW officials came over and spoke to the Carroll fans. Guiberson walked over a short time later, speaking to the Carroll fans and Ferris separately.

Guiberson stood in the aisle next to Ferris, and Ferris testified he said “You can’t f---ing stand there, people are trying to watch the game” to Guiberson.

“I probably shouldn’t have used that word at the time in the presence of other people,” Ferris added during his testimony.

Guiberson, referring to his report from the incident that evening, said Ferris told him “You’re just a f---ing gun and a badge, sit the f--ck down, people behind me are trying to see the game.”

Guiberson walked to the top of the bleachers “to ensure everything remained calm, and to watch the rest of the game.”

Ferris left his seat and watched the rest of the game by the wall. At the end of the game, as fans were funneling out of the gym to the only exit, Ferris said he noticed Guiberson standing at the wall nearby and watching him.

“I leaned over with my hands in my pockets and said ‘you know that badge and that gun don’t make you tough,” and referred to a decades-earlier incident between Guiberson and another person.

Guiberson testified Ferris was “up in his face,” and said Ferris was aggressive and upset. He said Ferris continued yelling profanities, so he put his hand on Ferris’ shoulder to try and lead him out, telling him to leave. Ferris protested that he did nothing illegal.

Guiberson said Ferris resisted his efforts to move him out of the gym, swore at him, and pulled away. He said he told Ferris he was under arrest and Ferris continued to resist. Guiberson said he tried to do a wrist lock and trip Ferris, and they both fell to the ground.

Guiberson’s head hit the floor, and he was later diagnosed with a concussion. Guiberson testified the symptoms continue to this day.

Self defense, ‘above the law’ claims asserted

“This is a simple case, about a man who thinks he’s above the law,” Fitch said at the start of the trial. He said Ferris swore at Guiberson in an “expletive-filled tirade,” refused to leave after being told multiple times, and resisted a lawful arrest which resulted in Guiberson’s concussion. All of those elements meet the legal definitions to warrant the charges against Ferris.

“Mr. Ferris did not resist – he did not punch Chief Guiberson, he did not strike Chief Guiberson, he did not put a headlock on Chief Guiberson,” Morris argued in his opening statement. “All he tried to do was keep his balance. When Chief Guiberson tried to trip him, he did not put him in a headlock, he did not pound his head into the ground, he had nothing to do with Chief Guiberson’s unfortunate accident of hitting his head and causing a concussion.”

Witnesses from both sides agreed there were two incidents – one between the Carroll fans and Ferris, and the second when Guiberson arrested Ferris at the end of the game. But that’s about all they agreed on.

Ferris admitted swearing at Guiberson in his testimony, and that he resisted because Guiberson was hurting him during the arrest. He also testified he thought Guiberson was trying to throw him to the floor and roughly pushed him up against the wall.

Guiberson testified he warned Ferris multiple times, told him to leave, then told him he was under arrest, and Ferris refused to do as ordered. Guiberson said he tried to guide Ferris outside and Ferris resisted; Guiberson added he felt something on his back, and then they both fell and Guiberson’s head hit the floor and bounced.

“I don’t recall much after that until I had (Ferris) against the wall and had his hands behind his back,” he said. He testified he needed assistance from off-duty officers present at the game to get handcuffs on Ferris.

Witness Gerald Penn testified he heard Ferris swear at Guiberson to sit down, and Guiberson told Ferris he needed to leave. Penn said Ferris replied, “What are you going to f---ing do, make me?”

Witness Rick Kuntz said he saw Ferris put Guiberson’s head to the floor “a couple of times.”

Witness Heidi Turney Lagge testified she heard Ferris swear at Guiberson, and saw Ferris put Guiberson in a headlock.

Ferris denied putting Guiberson in a headlock or slamming his head to the floor, saying those witnesses were wrong.

“You indicated you resisted,” Fitch said in rapid-fire questioning.

“I resisted nothing but being thrown to the ground on my face,” Ferris responded.

Fitch later asked Ferris if he participated in rodeo or “bulldogging” when he was younger, and Ferris said he had.

“You put an arm around Chief Guiberson’s head like a bulldogger,” he said.

“No, never,” Ferris said.

“You slammed his head to the ground,” Fitch pressed.

“No I did not,” Ferris said.

“You gave him a concussion,” Fitch added.

“No I did not. He gave himself a concussion,” Ferris said.

Ferris testified Guiberson threw him into the wall during the arrest as retaliation for his comment about the 20-year old incident. Witness Chelsea Hyde testified she saw Guiberson grab Ferris and “force Tom to the wall.”

Morris suggested through his questioning that Guiberson had a grudge against Ferris, and used more force than necessary to arrest him.

Morris grilled UMW Dean of Students Nicole Hazelbaker over an inconsistent statement Hazelbaker made regarding her location during both incidents, and highlighted text messages that suggested Hazelbaker was directing the investigation to bring more serious charges against Ferris.

Witness Dr. John Amtmann, a Montana Tech professor of kinesiology and third-degree Judo black belt, testified it was his opinion that Guiberson tried to do a “hip throw” incorrectly on Ferris, which would most likely injure Guiberson than Ferris.

“Done improperly, the positioning of the arms and hands can look like a headlock from the other party, when it’s the instigator who causes that placement,” Amtmann testified.

Amtmann said he formed his opinion from Guiberson’s testimony and review of the police report; a detail Fitch pounced on. Fitch noted Amtmann filed the same written opinion in June as he testified to in court.

“You gave the same opinion that you provided in testimony today? You provided the opinion prior to interviewing witnesses? You provided the same opinion before you listened to the evidence?” Fitch asked. Amtmann answered that he did to all the questions.

Amtmann also answered the defense sought – and paid – for his opinion and testimony.

“You gave them the answer they wanted?” Fitch pressed.

“No, I gave them the truth,” Amtmann replied.

Additional defense witnesses spoke to Ferris’ character. Several testified they did not see the arrest itself, though they saw the altercation in the stands with the Carroll fans. None of the defense witnesses said they heard Ferris yelling obscenities.

Improper investigation alleged

Throughout the trial, Morris attempted to include exhibits he claims show Hazelbaker organized witnesses to trump up charges against Ferris; and cited documents Dillon City Attorney James Dolan did not provide after several orders from the court.

Morris also questioned why Guiberson was the investigating officer in a case where he was the victim, and not an impartial officer from another jurisdiction.

Judge Mike Salvagni ruled against these defenses and lines of questioning in the trial, noting he had denied them previously in written rulings.

Morris said he may seek a new trial on the three misdemeanors (see related story).