An off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer who fired his gun during a confrontation with a group of teenagers outside his Anaheim home will not face criminal charges, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.
Prosecutors said Officer Kevin Ferguson made “unwise, immature and flat-out horrible choices” during the Feb. 21, 2017, confrontation, but they would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a crime.
The District Attorney’s Office acknowledged that Ferguson used “vulgar” language and his actions “endangered the safety of a large group of juveniles,” but based on a “totality of all the available evidence,” they would not be able to prove to a jury that he used excessive force or wrongfully detained one of the teens.
Ferguson’s attorney, John Christl, praised the decision.
“Obviously, we’re pleased, but we also think they made the right decision,” Christl told City News Service. “We felt based on the totality of the facts, with the threat by that individual, that a number of individuals who surrounded him and that assaulted him and were reaching into their pockets that Mr. Ferguson felt his life was in danger on that day.”
Christl declined to comment on District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ comments that Ferguson acted immaturely and endangered the students by firing a warning shot. Christl, however, noted that there was an uptick in gang graffiti tagging in the neighborhood at the time and a stabbing in a nearby park so neighbors were on edge at the time.
Also, Ferguson had been dealing with a consistent problem of students from the nearby school walking on his lawn, Christl said.
“All the time,” he said. “They were doing it with complete disregard for the ownership of their property and on numerous times they would use foul words to the family as if it was their property.”
Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh said the conflict stated at 2:38 p.m. when a 13-year-old boy was walking with another teenage boy and two teenage girls in the 1600 block of West Palais Avenue.
Ferguson, who was 33 at the time, started the fracas when he directed a “despicable” insult toward one of the teenage girls, leading to a confrontation with the group.
After Ferguson insulted the girl the others confronted him. Ferguson claimed the 13-year-old boy threatened to “shoot” him, Baytieh said, but the boy insisted he said he would “sue” Ferguson.
The teens attempted to walk away, but Ferguson pursued them and attempted to detain the boy, Baytieh said. The boy got away from Ferguson three times, and soon a crowd of about 14 students began to gather around the pair, Baytieh said.
A 15-year-old attempted to confront Ferguson “calmly,” but then another 16-year-old boy began “rushing” toward Ferguson, Baytieh said. The 16- year-old “tackled” Ferguson, who was holding on to the 13-year-old, over a hedge, Baytieh said.
The 16-year-old then “punched” Ferguson in the face, according to Baytieh.
Meanwhile, a fourth boy jumped over the hedge and began approaching Ferguson from the side, Baytieh said. As he was doing so, he took a pencil or pen from his ear and shoved it into a back pocket, Baytieh said.
Apparently believing the boy had a weapon, Ferguson pulled his gun out of his waist band and displayed it to the crowd, then pointing it downward and pulled the trigger, Baytieh said. Authorities never recovered the bullet and are not certain if Ferguson accidentally discharged the weapon or did as he claimed at the scene, which was fire a warning shot, Baytieh said.
Rackauckas said Ferguson should have been more understanding of the students walking on his lawn because he lived near a school.
“If you want to protect your lawn to that extent then put up a fence,” Rackauckas said.
Rackauckas said the junior high school students did not appear to be doing anything wrong and were initially “restrained” in their response to Ferguson’s confrontation. But Ferguson’s attempts to restrain the boy and his decision to fire the weapon “put everyone around in danger,” he said.
Ferguson announced to the teens that he was a police officer, but the 13-year-old said he did not believe him, Baytieh said. Ferguson told a 911 dispatcher he was a police officer.
The 13-year-old’s family has filed a federal lawsuit against the cities of Anaheim and Los Angeles as well as Ferguson.
Ferguson has been assigned to home duty by the LAPD pending the outcome of an internal investigation. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, during an appearance on ABC7, said the Ferguson case is far from over.
“That’s certainly not the end of it,” he said. “We have an administrative investigation. Obviously I’m very concerned about the officer’s judgment in this incident. And because of that, there’s an investigation ongoing that will determine what will be appropriate punishment, if any, for this.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, said the decision not to file criminal charges “was the right call.”
“Our officer took steps to protect himself when he was physically attacked by multiple individuals, including one who appeared to be concealing a sharp object that could be used as a weapon,” according to the union.
Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said the department has increased patrols in Ferguson’s neighborhood in case there is unrest stemming from the district attorney’s decision. Police arrested 24 in one night of unrest following the confrontation, Wyatt said. Some protesters vandalized a woman’s home, mistakenly thinking it was Ferguson’s.
–City News Service
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