RACINE — A jury spent approximately an hour deliberating Thursday before convicting a Milwaukee man of attacking a former Racine alderman, failing to believe the delivery driver punched him in self-defense.
The jury convicted James P. Ferguson, 29, of aggravated battery and disorderly conduct in the alleged Sept. 7, 2010, attack on former Alderman Thomas Sollman.
Ferguson testified Thursday that he only punched the man twice in self defense after Sollman “rammed him,” nearly knocking him down. But Racine County Assistant District Attorney Randy Schneider disputed that.
“There’s a link between the punch in the face and Mr. Sollman falling on the ground,” Schneider said. “He was (knocked) unconscious while he was standing.”
Ferguson was working as a delivery driver for Nassco Co. of Milwaukee when he made a delivery that morning at Sollman’s Racine business, Gallo Manufacturing. A dispute between the two men allegedly began, according to his criminal complaint and courtroom testimony. The altercation purportedly was sparked after damaged coil straps were delivered to Sollman’s shop.
Ferguson was accused of punching Sollman up to 10 times, according to the complaint and police reports.
“This, to me, doesn’t appear to be a self-defense case,” Schneider said during closing arguments Thursday. “This looks like a beat-down to me. He then ran away.”
Sollman was knocked out and fell forward onto the ground, Schneider said. Both eye sockets were broken, and Sollman received a broken and caved-in nasal cavity, plus bruises to his arms, face, chest and neck.
Ferguson was arrested that day just blocks from the business, located at 3600 S. Memorial Drive.
Sollman served as 15th District alderman from 1999 to 2007.
But Ferguson testified Thursday to a very different version of events.
He said Sollman began yelling and swearing at him after one of two coil straps he delivered to the business was damaged. Ferguson testified those two new items were replacements for an earlier shipment that contained damaged coil straps.
He said Sollman’s face turned red and he became “verbally aggressive and began threatening to get me fired. I immediately called my supervisor.”
Sollman accused him of leaving the damaged coils — without obtaining an employee’s signature — because Ferguson had been on his cellphone, Ferguson testified.
He admitted that his fiancée had called him as he arrived at Gallo that morning, but he wasn’t speaking to her later when unloading the shipment.
“She called me and I spoke to her. She spoke to me about a miscarriage (they had experienced),” Ferguson testified, his eyes filling with tears and his voice breaking.
But Ferguson said while on the phone with his boss, Sollman directed an employee to block his delivery truck in the delivery bay, using a forklift. He said when he went to check whether the forklift’s keys were inside so he could back it out of his way, Sollman came up and “rammed” him — “like a football-type thing.”
“I defended myself. I swung twice,” Ferguson said.
He testified that witnesses, including one of Sollman’s employees, “fabricated” their accounts of what happened — in part because Sollman filed a $1.8 million lawsuit against him and Nassco Co.
“I’m probably not going to be recommending a prison sentence for him,” Schneider said after jurors left the courtroom. But he added that could change if Ferguson picks up a bail jumping charge in the interim.
Schneider also did not ask for Ferguson’s bond immediately to be revoked, which typically would send him to jail until his sentencing. At that, Ferguson’s fiancée quietly began to sob, her hands covering her face.
Circuit Judge Tim Boyle set his sentencing for July 12.
Defense attorney Andrew Meetz declined comment after the verdict. Ferguson, who left the courtroom with his fiancée, both in tears, also declined to comment after the verdict.