zerby fam

Pam Amici, mother of Doug Zerby, speaks to the press in front of LBPD headquarters in 2011. Photo by Daniel DeBoom

UPDATED 1:26PM | A federal court jury in Santa Ana has awarded $6.5 million to the family of Douglas Zerby. Relatives of the man shot and killed by police in 2010 had been asking for as much as $21.5 million in damages according to their lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department and the City of Long Beach.

ORIGINAL 11:15AM | Jurors are expected to announce a verdict today in the federal civil rights and wrongful death suit brought against the City and Long Beach police in the 2010 officer-involved shooting death of Douglas Zerby.

The jury has been deliberating since Wednesday on whether or not the City should be ordered to pay a total of $21.5 million to the Zerby family, including $10 million in damages to the man’s son, $5 million in damages to his mother and $6.5 million in damages to Zerby’s father. The 35-year-old man–who was highly intoxicated at the time of the shooting–was shot and killed in December after police officers mistakenly identified the pistol-grip water nozzle he was holding as a handgun.

At the center of the debate is whether or not two officers–Victor Ortiz and Jeffrey Shurtleff–were at fault for Zerbys death or whether Zerby made an unexpected move in their direction and their response of unannounced fire was warranted.

Attorneys representing Zerby’s family argued that officers violated Zerby’s constitutional rights and were negligent, citing the lack of a verbal warning to Zerby before officers opened fire. An attorney representing Long Beach police argued that the situation evolved rapidly and the two officers acted reasonably under the circumstances.

“Even if (Zerby) was intoxicated and even if he had a gun, he was not committing a crime,” said attorney Dale Galipo, who represents Zerby’s mother and son. “The evidence is overwhelming that he didn’t even know the officers were there.”

Police claimed initially that Zerby was holding the gun-like water nozzle at Ortiz, prompting Shurtleff to open fire to protect Ortiz. However, a deputy medical examiner for the Los Angeles Coroner’s Department, who took the stand during the trial, said under questioning that it was possible that Zerby never raised his arms into a shooting position and was in a slumped position when he was shot. According to the Press-Telegram, the medical examiner showed the jury Zerby’s wounds which included “12 penetrating rounds and two abrasions, both from a handgun fired by Shurtleff and pellets from a shotgun used by Ortiz.” At least three of the shots were determined to he fatal. 

{loadposition latestnews}The incident began while Zerby was waiting for a friend in the 5300 block of Ocean Blvd. in Belmont Shore at about 4:30PM on December 12, 2010. Police recieved a 911 call from someone saying they saw a man manipulating and pointing what he believed to be a “small six-shooter” and arriving officers began to establish a perimeter before engaging with the subject.

Attorney Monte Machit, who represents Long Beach, said at the trial that moments before officers could alert the suspect of their presence and issue commands, Zerby snapped to attention and pointed the water nozzle at Ortiz, giving Shurtleff “no option” but to open fire.

“Police didn’t know that [Zerby was not committing a crime],” said Machit. “They didn’t know if he was wanted or had dead bodies upstairs.”

Los Angeles County District Attorney concluded in November 2011 that the shooting was justified and the officers had acted lawfully and in self defense, prompting outrage from the family and leading to several community groups calling for a federal probe into the case.

“There’s no question this is a tragic series of events,” Machit argued. “It comes down to did they act reasonably under the circumstances…It was a rapidly evolving situation with a lot of moving pieces…It is absolutely reasonable for the officers to suspect he had a gun.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

Read more:

{FG_GEOMAP [33.7548661,-118.13538370000003] FG_GEOMAP}