An off-duty Los Angeles police officer violated his department’s rules when he fired his gun during a clash with a group of teenagers last year in Anaheim, the Police Commission determined Tuesday.
Siding with Chief Charlie Beck, the commission found that Officer Kevin Ferguson’s tactics were out of policy, along with his decision to draw his gun and fire it.
The civilian panel’s unanimous vote comes nearly a year after Ferguson, 34, fired a shot after confronting a group of teenagers in front of his home in Anaheim, a caught-on-camera dispute that quickly went viral and triggered days of protests.
The criminal investigation into Ferguson’s actions ended two weeks ago, when Orange County prosecutors announced they would not charge him in the Feb. 21, 2017, encounter. Prosecutors had harsh words for his actions — calling them “unwise, immature and flat-out horrible” in a memo — but said they could not prove he broke the law.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted its own review to determine whether Ferguson violated any of the agency’s policies — standard protocol whenever an officer fires his or her gun. The five-person Police Commission ultimately decides whether officers were justified in doing so, and whether they followed department rules before pulling the trigger.
It is now up to Beck to decide what punishment, if any, to hand down to Ferguson.
The chief was critical of the officer’s actions in a report he submitted to the Police Commission, saying the inquiry revealed a “number of concerns” about Ferguson’s comments and conduct that prompted a personnel investigation.
Ferguson had “ample time” to try and deescalate the situation, go home and call Anaheim police, Beck wrote. Instead, the chief said, Ferguson continued to escalate the encounter by chasing after a 13-year-old boy.
There was no reason for Ferguson to draw his gun when he did, Beck added. And although the officer told investigators he fired a “warning shot” to scatter what Ferguson believed was a dangerous crowd, Beck wrote, LAPD officials determined the teenagers’ actions “did not warrant” such a move.
The officer’s attorney declined to comment on the Police Commission’s decision. In a statement, the directors of the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers defended Ferguson’s actions, saying he was trying to protect himself — and had “the right and duty” to do so.
“While we disagree with the findings, we hope this decision now enables everyone involved to move past this incident,” the Los Angeles Police Protective League said.
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, cursing at a 13-year-old girl.
That escalated into a 16-minute struggle between Ferguson and a 13-year-old boy that moved between the sidewalk and street before ending in a neighbor’s front yard. Prosecutors released nearly a dozen videos captured by surveillance cameras and cellphones that show different portions of the encounter — including the boy and Ferguson trading accusations.
At one point, the boy accuses Ferguson 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 that he said he was going to “sue” Ferguson.
At one point, another teenager rushes 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 a gun and fires a single shot.
No one was injured by the gunfire, which authorities said was aimed at the ground.
Ferguson told investigators he thought the crowd was going to “gang up on me” and “beat the … out of me,” according to Beck’s report.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” the officer said.
R.J. Manuelian, an attorney representing one of the teenagers, blasted Ferguson’s actions, saying they went “against all protocols.” The officer, he added, should be fired.
“I don’t think he has the temperament to be a police officer,” he said.