A video of Tuesday afternoon altercation in Anaheim homeowner Kevin J. Ferguson – who is also an LAPD officer – and 13-year old Christian Dorscht and a group of about two dozen teenagers has gone viral, garnering millions of views and sparking a mini-riot in the 1960s tract home neighborhood near Loara High School. Attention is focused on Ferguson drawing his weapon and firing a shot as he struggled with Dorschter and after some teenagers had assaulted him and others surrounded him.
There are a number of unanswered questions, most pointedly why Ferguson was carrying a concealed weapon, why he drew it, and whether or not he intentionally discharged it.
Until those and other questions are answered, and until we have a fuller picture of why this incident took place – and here it would be helpful local officials should refrain from rushing to judgment until they are answered.
It’s easy to cast Mr. Ferguson as the villain based on the particular version of the video that has gone viral, but in fairness we should point out that version omits the early stages of the encounter that broaden the context of it.
How The Incident Transpired
At a press conference today – click here to watch it – Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada laid out the facts as they are known:
It began around 2:40 on Tuesday, February 21, and it involved on ongoing dispute between the off-duty officer and some juveniles who continuously walked across his property.
I personally wish the off-duty officer had awaited our arrival before taking action, but instead he decided to confront the juveniles.
During the confrontation, it is alleged the 13-year old boy made a threat against the officer that led the officer to believe that the officer was going to shoot him.
At that point the juvenile walked away, and the officer made the decision to try and detain the juvenile pending our arrival. While physically detaining the juvenile several houses away from where the initial incident began, several other juveniles become involved, and a physical altercation ensued.
At least two juveniles physically assaulted the officer, knocking him to the ground. Following the second battery, and as several people began to surround the officer, the officer removed a handgun and one round was discharged.
The statements obtained were consistent that the officer did not shoot at anyone, but instead at the ground. Our officers arrived shortly thereafter.
Now let me address our decision making here.
With regard to the juveniles, clear and compelling evidence exists supporting the 13-year old’s involvement in making criminal threats and engaging in battery. And the 15-year old’s involvement in an assault and battery.
And I ask you to recall that not all videos had been submitted or collected at the time of our initial investigation.
Both juveniles were arrested and based on the charges the 13-year old was booked at Orange County Juvenile Hall, and the 15-year old was released to his parents.
With regard to the off-duty officer, while the evidence is clear and compelling that he did detain the juvenile and discharged his firearm, there was insufficient evidence at the time to prove the officer’s action rose to the level of a criminal act.
Not As Black-and-White As The “Bad Cop-Innocent Teen” Narrative
Predictably, the homeowner and off-duty officer is being portrayed as the villain here. As Mayor Tom Tait said at the press conference, “Like many, I am deeply disturbed and angry by what it shows. The video shows an adult wrestling with a 13-year old kid, and ultimately firing a gun.”
That is misleading, incomplete and unfair. This was a messy incident in which those involved could have made better choices as it progressed, but a fair viewing of the available videos reveals a more complicated situation that the Mayor’s abridged, over-simplified version of events.
This video by a Jay Gonzalez shows what transpired before the more famous viral video commences:
Here you see Dorscht mouthing off to Ferguson, who is trying to detain him until the police (whom he called) arrive. Also involved in the verbal altercation at this point is the teenager who a few minutes later tackles Ferguson, knocking him over a hedge. Dorscht accuses Ferguson of calling a girl who trespassed on his property a dirty name, which Ferguson denies. Dorscht says his dad “is a cop;” Ferguson responds, “I don’t care if your dad’s a cop. I’ll explain it to him face-to-face.”
“How you gonna do that” Dorscht says. “I…I didn’t say shit.”
“If that’s true have him come out here,” Ferguson responded.
Dorscht lunges at Ferguson, pushing him into a small tree while saying, “I’m just defending myself.”
Ferguson hangs on to Dorscht and pulls him onto the front lawn of a home, followed by several teenage boys who quickly surround them.
“He tried hitting me in my nuts,” Dorscht tells the other teenagers. “That’s like a little pussy move. Punch a kid in the nuts? Fight like a man if your actually gonna fight a kid.”
“I’m gonna wait right here with you,” Ferguson replied. He continued pulling Dorscht back toward his house, where the incident began, telling Dorscht “You shouldn’t have made the threat you were gonna shoot me.”
Dorscht denied it, claiming he said he was going to “sue” him.
Several of the teenage boys again surrounded them, with one attempting the pry Dorscht from Ferguson’s grip, to which the off-duty officer said “Get your fucking hands off me.” After Dorscht and Ferguson wrestle-walked a few feet further, a tall teenage boy came over and tried to break Dorscht free. A few second later, the tall teenage boy at the beginning of the video rushes in an tackles Ferguson, knocking him into a hedge separating two homes.
Ferguson then tries dragging Dorscht over the hedge. Another teenage boy runs over and takes a swing at Ferguson’s head while another teen jumps the hedge and approaches the off-duty officer.
The more famous video from the La Raza Unida Facebook page provides a better view of the what happened when the officer pulled and then fired his pistol:
We’ll leave it investigators to determine if his actions were justified, but the quick-to-judge might consider that this homeowner was being surrounded by two dozen hostile teenagers. They had begun attacking him in rapid succession, he was outnumbered two dozen-to-one, and he wasn’t at his house yet. He had no way of knowing if the attacks would continue, or even if letting Dorscht go would defuse the situation, or when the police would arrive (Ferguson probably figured they would have already arrived). Plus he had to consider the safety of the old man with a cane who was nearby. In retrospect, he likely wishes he had never collared Dorscht in the first place.
The homeowner has to take responsibility for his action, warranted or not, advisable or not. At the same time, the teenagers should be excused for their behavior by virtue of their age. A number of them were just acting like punks, and its easy to believe this is the type of behavior and disrespect for others and property that had prompted Ferguson to make repeated complaints to the Anaheim Police Department and led him ultimately to decide to detain one of the kids until the police arrived.
I doubt any involved are looking back at this as their proudest moment, and would likely have conducted themselves differently and better if given the opportunity. But let’s put this matter in context, avoid oversimplifying what happened and hopefully the usual suspects can resist the temptation to wrongly exploit this to advance their anti-police or racial identity politics agendas.