The Los Angeles Police Board of Police Commissioners held a closed session discussion today on Kevin Ferguson’s actions when he fired a single shot into the ground in an after-school scuffle with Anaheim teens last year. The off-duty Los Angeles Police Department cop detained 13-year-old Christian Dorscht, kicked him in the groin and put him in a headlock all because he thought he heard the teen say, “I’m going to shoot you.” Viral video of the incident showed Dorscht telling Ferguson that he actually said, “I’m going to sue you” while trying to free himself from his clutches.
The trouble began when Dorscht walked home with three other classmates that Feb. 21 afternoon. A fellow teen veered onto Ferguson’s driveway and lawn. Wearing an open-plaid shirt, blue jeans and sunglasses, the off-duty cop called the girl a “cunt,” prompting Dorscht to verbally accost him in her defense. Ferguson responded by following the group of students a few houses down where he forcefully detained Dorscht.
Nobody had the chance to speak on the Ferguson incident at today’s meeting. Commission President Steve Soboroff called it off early amid acrimony between commissioners and activists on other contentious issues. Without public input, the LA Police Commission considered both Ferguson’s non-lethal and lethal use of force during an hours-long closed session that followed. A brief report back this afternoon disclosed that they unanimously found his actions to be “out of policy” while making “administrative disapproval” determinations.
The Weekly reached out to John Christl, Ferguson’s attorney, for comment on the LA Police Commission’s vote and will update the story if a response if given.
“The commission can say something is in policy or out of policy,” says Jasmyne Cannick, an LAPD critic who followed today’s development. “When it comes to officer discipline, only one person in the LAPD can dish that out, and that’s the chief of police.” And that’s where the board’s vote will be considered next. If LAPD chief Charlie Beck upholds with decision, the matter will be sent to a Board of Rights hearing where a recommendation for termination could be made. But final authority rests with Beck or whoever succeeds him after he retires from the force this summer.
Two high profile cases show how the process can go both ways. Beck fired veteran LAPD detective Frank Lyga in 2014 after recordings surfaced showing him making racist comments, including regarding his fatal shooting of a black off-duty officer Kevin Gaines in 1997. “I send people to the Board of Rights for a reason, to be terminated,” Beck told radio host Dominique Diprima when interviewed on KJLH-FM about Lyga. “When the Board of Rights comes back with mixed results and finds somebody not guilty of many of the acts of which they were sent to that Board of Rights, I can’t undo that.”
But Cannick also offers the cautionary tale of Shaun Hillmann. The disciplinary board recommended terminating the officer earlier that same year after he’d been caught on tape uttering a racist slur outside a bar. Beck didn’t follow through by firing Hillmann; he handed down a controversial 65-day suspension that elicited howls of favoritism within the department with Hillmann’s familial ties.
Last month, the Orange County District Attorney’s office held a press conference announcing they wouldn’t be filing criminal charges against Ferguson. The cop had been assigned to “non-field” duties pending the investigation’s outcome. The OCDA’s decision angered a small group of protesters who assembled outside the Ferguson family home the following day.
Still, today’s “out of policy” vote against Ferguson is significant. “For people who want to see Ferguson have some sort of discipline for what he did, this is a step in that direction,” Cannick says. “If I’m Ferguson right now, I’m very worried that I may lose my job.”