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Los Angeles Police Department Officer Kevin Ferguson, who fired his gun during a 2017 altercation with a group of Anaheim teenagers, will not face criminal charges for his actions, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told a news conference Wednesday.
Rackauckas said Ferguson’s actions “endangered and terrified” the teenagers involved, but there is insufficient evidence that Ferguson committed a crime.
Ferguson, then 33, was off duty on February 21 when a group of four juveniles, on their way home from school, walked past his corner property on Palais Road in Anaheim.
One of the teens, a female, walked across Ferguson’s lawn, apparently a persistent problem in the neighborhood, according to some neighbors and Anaheim police.
Ferguson called the girl a vulgar term, prompting another teen, 13-year-old Christian Dorscht, to intervene. The DA did not identify any of the students, but Dorscht’s parents later identified him to media.
Cell phone video footage of the encounter quickly went viral, and sparked hundreds of people to protest in front of Ferguson’s home that evening.
According to Ferguson, Dorscht said “if you touch me I am going to shoot you.” Dorscht says he actually stated, “if you touch me I am going to sue you.”
It was based on that comment that Ferguson apparently decided to detain Dorscht, said Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh.
Dorscht can be seen on video struggling to get away from Ferguson. At one point, Ferguson places Dorscht in a headlock and kicks in him the groin, Baytieh said.
A crowd of teens gathers, telling Ferguson to let go of Dorscht. Eventually, other teens try to separate the two. One teen punches Ferguson and tackles him over a hedge.
Ferguson continues to hold onto Dorscht, and as another teen approaches, Ferguson pulls out a gun with his left hand and discharges his weapon. Witnesses said the gun was pointed toward the ground and no one was hit.
According to Baytieh, the DA did not take into account Ferguson’s status as a police officer in its analysis of the events, aside from the consideration that Ferguson, as a sworn police officer, can carry a concealed weapon while off duty.
Baytieh said there are two questions that were considered in the office’s legal analysis: first, whether Ferguson as a private citizen had a legal right to detain Dorscht and second, whether Ferguson used excessive force in the process.
“The law makes clear that a private person may arrest another individual for a public offense….and the law allows physical detention to effect an arrest,” said Baytieh. “If that force used by the individual is excessive, and the prosecutor can prove it, it will justify the filing of criminal charges.”
Baytieh said Dorscht’s manner of speaking suggests a “reasonable person” would mistake the word “sue” for “shoot.” Dorscht’s parents have said that he has a speech impediment.
He also noted that as Ferguson was struggling to hold onto Dorscht across the hedge, another teen approached, taking a pencil from behind his ear and placing it into his back pocket.
“You and I now know when John Doe was reaching behind his back, he was putting his pencil away,” Baytieh. “But the law allows someone to use force based on the appearance of danger.”
Rackauckas called Ferguson’s behavior “unreasonable.”
“They’re going to walk on your lawn, that’s a normal part of what we go through having neighborhoods,” Rackauckas said. “If you want to protect your lawn, maybe you ought to put a fence around it or something.”
He went on to say that the behavior by the juveniles was “pretty restrained” given their circumstances.
Dorscht has since filed a federal lawsuit against Ferguson and the city of Anaheim. He said he feared for his life and was traumatized when Anaheim police officers did not arrest Ferguson, instead taking Dorscht to juvenile hall before eventually releasing him. Dorscht was not charged with any crimes.
Asked why the Anaheim police did not arrest Ferguson, Rackauckas said there wasn’t an arrest to make.
“Mr. Ferguson explains that this kid said he was going to shoot him, and that gives someone the right to make a citizen’s arrests,” Rackauckas said.
According to LAPD detective Meghan Aguilar, a spokeswoman for the agency, Ferguson has been on paid leave since the incident. Wednesday’s announcement by the OCDA will trigger an internal investigation into Ferguson’s conduct. A separate inquiry into Ferguson’s use of force for discharging his firearm is also ongoing.
The internal investigation must conclude within a year of its initiation, Aguilar said.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Ferguson refused to do interviews with both the Anaheim Police Department and the District Attorney’s office, but he was interviewed by the DA’s office. Voice of OC regrets the error.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.