BUFFALO, N.Y.(WIVB) – A local leader pleaded not guilty to weapon charges in court Friday morning, after a scare at a Buffalo school Thursday afternoon.
Fifty-two-year-old Dwayne Ferguson, head of the Buffalo chapter of MAD DADS, pleaded not guilty to second degree criminal possession of a weapon, carrying a loaded firearm on school property and obstruction of governmental administration.
Ferguson is known well respected in the community and known for his efforts to fight violence. His arrest came as a surprise to many. He told News 4 it was a mistake.
“I would like to apologize to the parents for whatever they went through,” he said.
Around 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, a call came into 911 that there was a man with a gun inside Harvey Austin Elementary School on Sycamore Street. More than a dozen cop cars, K9 units, the SWAT team and Erie County Sheriff’s Air One helicopter responded. It would be around two and a half hours until parents and students were reunited.
Ferguson was taken into custody following a secondary search of the school that involved giving everyone in the building a pat down.
“Before everybody was getting searched to go get on the bus, I told a couple officers,” he said. “I told them I did have one on me at that time. I’m licensed to carry and I did have one.”
He says he knew police were looking for a possible gunman but didn’t realize it might be him.
“I didn’t know what happened or what was going on because I asked them what did the young man have on, what did the man wear, what was the description, but nobody could tell me anything at that time,” Ferguson said. “They weren’t looking for me because I was in the building earlier. I know they weren’t looking for me because they never described me.”
He was arraigned on Friday and released on his own recognizance. He had to turn over his .38 caliber handgun, which he has a permit to carry. He says he wasn’t aware he wasn’t allowed to have a gun on him in a school, even though there has been a law banning the possession of any gun in any school on the books nationwide for more than 20 years.
“I wasn’t aware of that at the time. At that point I had just stopped through for a few minutes to see my young men because I had just come from a funeral. That’s all it was,” he said.
Police say Ferguson lied to officers about having a gun on him during the lockdown.
He said, “No police officer asked me at all if I had a gun with a permit. No police officer asked me that at all.”
Ferguson, who has no prior criminal record, has been barred from school property until this case is over. MAD DADS sponsors an after school program at the school and has been very active in the community. Ferguson even took part in a pro-SAFE Act rally last year.
At the time, he said, “Our kids are not buying assault weapons, they’re buying pistols and they’re buying them right out of community stores and back here in the school, so this is serious. It needs to go further than what it is.”
SCOPE President Budd Schroeder says if Ferguson was unaware that he wasn’t allowed to have a gun at a school, then he must have missed something during training.
But still, he says, “I think the man is being overcharged. I think all the laws should be focused on the misuse of firearms, not the possession of them. It’s like saying everybody is guilty of speeding because they own a car.”
Ferguson is due back in court on March 6th for a felony hearing. If convicted of all of the charges, he could face up to 15 years behind bars.