A lawsuit has been filed against an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who fired his gun during a videotaped clash last month with several teenagers in Anaheim.
Christian Dorscht, a 13-year-old boy who was grabbed by the police officer, filed the suit along with his parents on Feb. 28. The suit alleges that Officer Kevin Ferguson violated the boy’s civil rights and caused the plaintiff emotional distress. It also claims that Ferguson assaulted and falsely imprisoned the boy.
The lawsuit marks the beginning of what could be a lengthy legal battle over the Feb. 21 encounter, which remains under investigation by police in both Anaheim and Los Angeles. Videos of the clash, posted online, renewed the debate over how officers use force — whether on-duty or not — and prompted protests in Anaheim.
Attorneys for Ferguson and Dorscht did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday.
Anaheim police say the violent exchange between Ferguson and a group of teenagers began when the off-duty officer confronted them about walking across his property on their way home from school.
The lawsuit says Ferguson was standing outside his home, drinking a beer, when he “became irate” that a girl walked across his lawn and started shouting profanities at her. Dorscht told the officer to talk to the girl “in a nicer manner,” the lawsuit states.
Anaheim police said Ferguson tried to detain the 13-year-old after the boy made a threat that “led the officer to believe that he was going to shoot him.” In the video, the boy denies the remarks, saying he said he was going to “sue” the officer.
Video of the incident shows Ferguson grabbing the teen by the collar of his sweatshirt and appearing to backpedal while holding onto him. A large group of teenagers follows, some filming the incident, others demanding that Ferguson release their friend. After several tense minutes, another teen rushes at Ferguson, knocking the officer backward over a row of hedges.
In the ensuing struggle on the video, Ferguson draws his firearm and fires a single shot. No one was struck, and Anaheim police said Ferguson fired into the ground, but the sound of the shot sent the group of teenagers running, according to the video.
The lawsuit claims Ferguson never identified himself as a police officer or showed his badge.
Anaheim police said a 13-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats and battery. A 15-year-old also was arrested on suspicion of battery.
The lawsuit says that Dorscht was one of the teenagers arrested and that the arrest was “unreasonable and not justified,” describing Dorscht as a victim in a “brutal attack.”
Ferguson, who was not arrested, joined the LAPD in 2013 and works out of the Hollywood division. He remains on-duty but is not working in the field, according to the LAPD.
Ferguson’s attorney has defended his actions, saying he fired the shot to defuse an escalating situation. Ferguson had been punched in the face, attorney Larry Hanna said, and other teens were coming at him.
Nearly 300 people staged a protest in Anaheim shortly after the video went viral, resulting in some property damage and vandalism at Ferguson’s home. 23 people were arrested.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said last month he was troubled by the video.
“Like many, I am deeply disturbed and frankly angered by what it shows,” he said of the footage. “The video shows an adult wrestling with a 13-year-old kid and ultimately firing a gun. … It should never have happened.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers like Ferguson, dismissed the lawsuit as a “shakedown” in a statement Wednesday.
“We hope that this lawsuit determines why multiple young adults chose to physically assault a police officer and what the parents of these young adults could have done to teach their children right from wrong,” the statement read.