An off-duty Los Angeles police officer won't face criminal charges stemming from a dispute with Anaheim teenagers that ended with him firing a gun, a videotaped incident that quickly went viral and prompted days of protests in the suburban neighborhood.
Prosecutors had harsh words for Officer Kevin Ferguson's behavior, writing in a memo that his choices were "unwise, immature and flat-out horrible." His actions and language were vulgar, they said. He terrified the 13-year-old he detained, they added, and endangered the safety of others.
But, prosecutors said, they couldn't prove that behavior was criminal.
"I don't believe there is anyone who watches this video who is OK with the way Ferguson handled himself," Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas told reporters Wednesday. "We just cannot prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt against him."
The matter is not fully resolved — the Los Angeles Police Department is still investigating whether Ferguson violated any of its policies, and the teenager is suing in federal court. But the decision to close the case with no criminal charges stoked debate.
"He got special treatment because he has a badge," said R.J. Manuelian, an attorney representing one of the teenagers involved in the encounter. "It's sending the wrong message to the public ... that as long as you have a badge and a gun, you can do whatever you want."
Prosecutors emphasized that they looked at Ferguson as a private citizen, not as a police officer. The only way his job affected their decision, they said, was that it allowed him to lawfully carry a concealed weapon.
Their review, they said, hinged on whether they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ferguson used excessive force or unlawfully detained the boy while trying to make a citizen's arrest during the encounter in February.
John Christl, Ferguson's attorney, defended his client's actions, saying he was only trying to protect himself from a hostile crowd.
"He feels that he acted appropriately under the circumstances," Christl said.
The union representing the LAPD's rank-and-file also backed Ferguson, saying "police officers have the right and duty to protect themselves and the public when they come under attack."
None of the teenagers were charged, prosecutors said. Ferguson, 33, who joined the LAPD in 2013, does not currently work in the field, the department said Wednesday.
What began as a complaint common in many neighborhoods — a group of teens walking through a neighbor's yard on the way home from school — spun out of control when authorities say Ferguson confronted the group in front of his home.
On Wednesday, prosecutors released nearly a dozen videos — some from surveillance cameras, many from cellphones — that captured different portions of the encounter. The 16-minute struggle between Ferguson and the 13-year-old moves between the sidewalk and street before ending in a neighbor's frontyard.
The boy accuses Ferguson of cursing at a girl who walked across his yard, which the officer denies, and also accuses the officer of choking him as they struggle.
"What are you doing this for?" a bystander asks.
"Because he threatened to shoot me," Ferguson responds.
"I didn't say that," the 13-year-old answers, insisting to Ferguson that he said he was going to "sue" him.
At one point, another teenager rushed the officer, sending him tumbling over a hedge.
As the officer tries to drag the 13-year-old over the bushes, another teen swings at him. The officer then reaches into his jeans for the gun and fires a single shot.
No one was hurt by the gunfire, which authorities said was aimed at the ground.
The boy, identified in court documents as Christian Dorscht, sued Ferguson, the Anaheim Police Department and the LAPD, alleging the boy's civil rights were violated. His attorney did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Television trucks quickly descended on the Anaheim neighborhood, where residents mostly stayed inside, away from the fray. Police officers knocked on their doors earlier in the day, letting them know a decision was going to be announced.
Teenagers who walked home from nearby Loara High School said they were surprised to learn Ferguson wouldn't face charges.
"Honestly," said Gustavo Toledo, a sophomore, "he could have handled it a lot better."