Footage of an off-duty LAPD police officer in Anaheim made its rounds on the Internet late last month, featuring the officer poorly mitigating a tense confrontation between himself and a group of teenagers. The controversial videos culminated in riots on the officer’s lawn and a torrent of complaints sent to the LAPD.
The videos show the officer, recently identified as Kevin Ferguson, holding a 13-year-old boy by his shirt collar and firing a single shot from a pistol after being physically engaged by two other teenagers. Despite pleadings from both the child and several spectators, Ferguson refuses to let go of the child and drags him across his lawn.
Several events are said to have happened before the recording began, but they have not been confirmed. Ferguson claims the boy threatened to shoot him prior to being grabbed, although the teenager insists that Ferguson misheard “sue” as “shoot.” The children also allege that Ferguson called out an obscenity at their female peer — prompting the 13-year-old to threaten him — which Ferguson also denies.
While some key factors of this event are left to speculation, one thing is clear, Ferguson should not have fired his weapon.
Larry Hanna, Ferguson’s attorney, said the shot was fired to de-escalate the situation he was in, and reflects how Ferguson was trained to handle such interactions, although this reasoning comes nowhere near to justifying such a reckless action.
To make things clear, I believe that Ferguson pulling out his gun was a fair decision. He was surrounded by teenagers, two of whom had already physically harmed him, and it is understandable that he felt a need to defend himself. However, I do not agree with his plan to defuse the crisis by discharging the weapon.
Shooting first in a gunfight, especially one where you are the only person with a gun drawn, is a frantic move and does not display the “Protect and Serve” mentality LAPD officers should uphold. If any of the other children had guns and planned to use them as Ferguson had assumed they would, firing a shot would only invite retaliation, not the de-escalation Hanna claims was intended.
Furthermore, when a police officer can only think to use violence to calm down a hostile situation, that officer’s competence deserves to be scrutinized. Both parties are at fault for escalating the crisis, with the teenagers’ physical attacks on Ferguson and his persistent hold on the child all ratcheting up the tension to the inevitable discharge.
But Ferguson’s authority as an off-duty police officer and an adult leave him with the responsibility of, well, being responsible. He makes no attempt to calm down the hot-headed teenagers surrounding him, instead feeding into the confusion by matching their frustration. By using his authority to intimidate and anger rather than try to defuse the situation, Ferguson displayed a poor grasp of high-pressure decision-making, making him far more dangerous than the teenagers who attacked him.
It is important to note that, obviously, not all cops are bad. While some of the boys in blue deserve to have an eye kept on them, there are many others who actually wish to serve and protect the community. “Fuck the police” makes for a powerful rap and a nice chant, but alienating helpful officers who just so happen to work next to a douchey one is not helping either side of the debate.
That being said, Ferguson is definitely in the less-than-stellar department of LA’s police force and will hopefully incur damages equivalent to his failures as a cop. Since the incident, he has returned to work (although not in the field – go figure), and the LAPD have yet to outline what they intend to do with him.
Hopefully his inability to de-escalate a hostile situation, his highly questionable use of a firearm, his failure to communicate his intentions to the teenager during the predicament, and his embarrassment to the LA police force will earn him a more permanent role as an angry guy sitting in his driveway yelling at kids. Fingers crossed.
Isaac Espinosa is a second-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.