Virginia inquiry into the death of Donald P. Ferguson, who died last year after confinement in the Fairfax County jail, yesterday concluded there is no evidence that Ferguson was mistreated in the jail.
The board of inquiry's report, authorized by Republican Gov. John N. Dalton, sharply contradicts an earlier report by a panel of Northern Virginia Democrats who said that Ferguson would not have died if he had been properly treated.
Ferguson, a 28-year-old construction worker arrested on Dec. 2, 1978, for failure to pay a $50 fine, went into acute alcohol withdrawal two days after being confined in the county jail.
He was placed in a padded cell "in handcuffs and probably leg irons" for three days, according to the board of inquiry's report.
An earlier investigation by Fairfax County Sheriff James D. Swinson, who is in charge of the jail, showed that Ferguson lay in the padded cell amid spilled food and his own urine. He died of kidney failure at Western State Hospital in Staunton two days after he was transferred from the jail.
The report released in Richmond yesterday said "there is no indication that any physical abuse or inhumane treatment occurred (while Ferguson was in the jail) and that the level of medical and physical restraint used was appropriate to Mr. Ferguson's condition."
Frank Mueller, chairman of the four-member board of inquiry and the assistant director of the State Department of Corrections, said yesterday that Ferguson's treatment "may sound inhumane, but if they hadn't shackled him, he would have hurt himself."
Mueller's statement was challenged yesterday by state Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax, a member of the 15-member board that in August blamed Ferguson's death on improper jail treatment and called for Swinson's resignation.
"I cannot accept the notion that there wasn't a way to restrain Ferguson that was somewhat more consistent with his dignity as a human being," Gartlan said. Gartlan said Ferguson could have been shackled on a bed and that his padded cell could have been cleaned up.
The Ferguson case aroused the anger of many black citizens in Northern Virginia and has become a political issue in Fairfax. Swinson labeled the report that called for his resignation "political bunk."
The board of inquiry authorized by Dalton was requested by three prominent Northern Virginia Republicans -- Fairfax board Chairman John F. Herrity and Dels. Warren E. Barry and Vincent F. Callahan. They said the earlier panel was stacked against Swinson.
"You've got to question the political timing of this report. It is coming out six days before the election," Gartlan said.
The administration of the county jail is the major issue among the four candidates seeking to replace Swinson in Tuesday's balloting.
Kenneth R. Wilson, the Democratic candidate, said yesterday he cannot accept the board of inquiry's finding that hospital facilites for Ferguson were unavailable in Northern Virginia.
The report states that the jail staff attempted to find Ferguson a bed in a local hospital, but that no beds could be located. A spokesman for Fairfax hospital, which treats acute alcoholic problems, said yesterday the hospital has no records of jail staff members calling to ask for a bed at the time Ferguson was jailed.
M. Wayne Huggins, the Republican candidate for sheriff and Swinson's chosen successor, said yesterday the hospital "couldn't keep records of everyone who calls to ask for a bed."
The board of inquiry's report concluded that jail medics failed to give Ferguson sedatives that were prescribed and did not keep proper records of the drugs that were given the prisoner. It recommended reforms in medical procedures at the jail and drug record-keeping.
Huggins said yesterday these reforms have already been instituted.
Christopher Stokes, an independent candidate for sheriff, could not be reached for comment yesterday on the board of inquiry's report. James M. Settle Jr., another independent candidate, had no comment on the report.