Zerby Family: We Will “Seek Justice”

Zerby family attorney Brian Claypool demonstrates how Long Beach police officers Victor Ortiz and Jeffrey Shurtleff shot and killed an unarmed Doug Zerby. Photos by Daniel DeBoom.
5:00am | On Friday, Zerby family members vowed to continue their efforts to “seek justice” after the Los Angeles County District Attorney cleared two LBPD officers this week in the fatal shooting of Doug Zerby in December 2010. Zerby was shot by two LBPD officers when they mistook a water nozzle he was holding for a gun.

Zerby family attorney Brian Claypool was “outraged by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s decision” that the shooting was in self-defense and why the LBPD officers “couldn’t identify the water nozzle in Doug Zerby’s hand with the scope of a high powered rifle the police had trained on Zerby before shooting and killing him.”

Zerby’s mother, Pam Amici, and sister, Eden Marie Biele also spoke and expressed their disappointment. The family vowed to continue their efforts with a federal civil rights violation and wrongful-death lawsuit against the LBPD.
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell told the Press-Telegram on Thursday, “This was truly a tragedy. Hopefully this conclusion provides some closure for the family, the community and the officers involved.”

Zerby family attorney Brian Claypool.

Pam Amici, mother of Doug Zerby, speaks to the press in front of LBPD headquarters.

Eden Marie Biele, the sister of Doug Zerby, speaks to the press in front of LBPD headquarters.

Claypool questions the decision arrived at by the Los Angeles District Attorney that the shooting death of Doug Zerby.

Claypool is “outraged” by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s decision.

November 4, 12:35pm | This morning, the Los Angeles Times reported that family members of Douglas Zerby, as well as civil rights attorneys, and the community groups Long Beach Campaign to Stop Police Violence and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), are seeking a federal probe into Zerby’s death. Zerby’s family’s attorney, Brian Claypool, stated his belief that the officers should have been prosecuted for negligent homicide.

A trial date is set for September.

Click here to read the full story.
November 3, 10:55am | This morning, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell received a letter from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, stating that Justice System Integrity Division has “completed its review of the December 12, 2010, fatal shooting of Douglas Zerby by Long Beach Police Officers Victor Ortiz and Jeffrey Shurtleff.” The office has determined that the officers acted “lawfully in self-defense and the defense of others.”

The letter recounts the events of December 12, 2011, compiled from the statements of Glenn Moore, the 911 caller who first saw Zerby sitting on the steps behind his Belmont Shore home and called the police, and the statements of the responding officers.

Zerby, who was 35 at the time of his death, was intoxicated and headed to a friend’s house on the 5300 block of East Ocean Boulevard. Postmortem toxicology tests also showed levels of carboxy-THC, Diazepam, and Nordiazepam.

Moore saw Zerby manipulating and pointing what he believed to be, and reported to police to be, a “small six-shooter.” It was later revealed that Zerby was not in fact armed, but was holding a pistol-grip garden hose nozzle. When Zerby pointed the nozzle at police they opened fire.

The letter goes on to conclude that this case was a “tragic mistake of fact”, and that the police has reason to believe that Zerby was armed. The pistol-grip hose nozzle that Zerby was holding is described as having a physical appearance “remarkably similar to the outward appearance of a handgun”, and the manner in which Zerby was holding and pointing the nozzle was similar to the manner in which one would manipulate and point a firearm.

See below for a statement from the Long Beach Police Department.

Click here to read the full letter to the Police Chief.

File photo from a December 2010 press conference where Long Beach Police Department officers and Chief Jim McDonnell address the media near a photo of the water nozzle held by Douglas Zerby when he was shot and killed.
November 3, 10:55am | The Long Beach Police Department released the following statement moments ago:

Today, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office released the findings of their investigation of an officer involved shooting involving two Long Beach Police Department officers.  The shooting occurred on December 12, 2010, at a residence in the 5300 block of East Ocean Boulevard, and resulted in the death of Mr. Douglas Zerby.  Additionally, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell is also releasing his findings of the shooting.  

The District Attorney’s office has completed their investigation and District Attorney Steve Cooley has released his findings.  Their investigation supports the facts previously released by the Long Beach Police Department, indicating that Mr. Zerby was in possession of an object believed by both residents and responding officers to be a firearm.  The District Attorney’s Office also supported the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office findings that Mr. Zerby’s arms were consistent with someone having both arms extended straight out and pointing in the direction of Officer Ortiz at the time the shots were fired.

The investigation concluded that the evidence demonstrated that the police officers actually and reasonably believed that Mr. Zerby was armed with a firearm at the time of the incident and that both officers involved acted lawfully in self-defense and in the defense of others.

In their findings, the names of the officers involved in this incident who discharged their firearms were released publicly, and therefore, the Long Beach Police Department is acknowledging the names of those officers at this time.  They are identified as Officer Victor Ortiz, a 10-year employee, and Officer Jeffrey Shurtleff, a six-year employee. 

Every officer involved shooting involving the death of a suspect is subject to three separate and independent investigations conducted by the Long Beach Police Department, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.  

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division investigates all officer involved shootings that result in injury, as well as prosecutes police officers for crimes.  The District Attorney’s Office has a special shooting team that responds to police shootings.  The team that responded to this investigation consisted of a Deputy District Attorney, a District Attorney Investigative Lieutenant, and a Senior Investigator.  The District Attorney’s office responded to the scene, examined evidence, participated in witness interviews, and attended the autopsy. 

The initial investigation was an internal Long Beach Police Department criminal investigation and an administrative review into the actions of the officers’ use of deadly force, which occurs anytime an officer discharges their firearm whether on or off-duty.  The criminal investigation is turned over to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

In this case, the internal review was extensive, and resulted in over 500 pages of written reports based on several months of investigations and extensive interviews, with the purpose being to review the actions of the involved employees to determine if they were within policy and whether their actions were consistent with department training and guidelines.  The initial portion of the internal review was conducted by a Shooting Review Board, consisting of Department management personnel and subject matter experts who reviewed all related police reports and evidence.  In this case, the Shooting Review Board determined that the actions of both officers were in accordance with Department policy and consistent with Departmental training guidelines.  
The findings of the Shooting Review Board were forwarded to the Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, who reviewed the case and made a preliminary finding in June 2011.  In this case, Chief McDonnell found the actions of both officers to be within Department policy and consistent with Departmental training guidelines.  

An additional investigation was completed by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.  This investigation was completed on February 16, 2011, and the results were made public.  The Coroner’s Office determined that the wound trajectory was consistent with someone in a seated position, feet flat on the floor with knees bent and leaning forward with both hands close together and raised out in front of him.  This supported the officer’s statements that Mr. Zerby pointed the object at them when they fired.  

The final component in the officer involved shooting process was the investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office who reviewed the Long Beach Police Department’s criminal investigation, as part of their own investigation into this shooting as well as information provided by Brian Claypool, the attorney representing Mr. Zerby’s beneficiaries.

The three investigations collectively support the following facts:

On December 12, 2010, Long Beach Police Officers responded to a 9-1-1 call from a resident who reported a man with a gun at the rear of his residence in the 5300 block of East Ocean Boulevard.  The caller described, a man later identified as Douglas Zerby, holding a handgun.  The resident informed the 9-1-1 operator that the man with the gun did not live there.

Three minutes and 28 seconds after the 9-1-1 call was received, and at approximately 4:43 p.m., Officer Victor Ortiz arrived on scene, along with a Marine Patrol Special Services Officer.  Officer Ortiz made contact with the resident who reiterated there was a man with a gun in his back yard.  Officer Ortiz retrieved his shotgun from his police car and entered the front residence to observe the suspect.  Officer Ortiz positioned himself in the living room of the residence and was approximately 38 feet away from Mr. Zerby.  The Special Services Officer stayed outside to inform arriving officers where the suspect was located.

Officer Jeffrey Shurtleff arrived on scene approximately 2 minutes and 5 seconds later and took a position inside the kitchen of the residence several feet back from the window and approximately 23 feet away from Mr. Zerby.

Over the next several minutes, Officers Ortiz and Shurtleff observed Mr. Zerby holding what they believed was a handgun.   He was manipulating the object by pulling the lever, which caused a clicking sound similar to a handgun.  He was pointing the weapon towards the apartment building west of him.  

A third officer arrived on scene approximately 6 minutes and 28 seconds after Officer Ortiz and took a position in the front of the residence looking north down a walkway.  The officer deployed his rifle and utilizing a telescopic sight, was able to observe Mr. Zerby from approximately 56 feet away.

The officers knew that directly above the landing where Mr. Zerby was sitting were two apartments.  They also knew that there were four ways for the subject to escape from the area using walkways on either side of the complex, which led into the densely populated neighborhood.

From the moment Officer Ortiz arrived on scene, he and responding officers began to form a plan to safely take Mr. Zerby into custody.  They requested additional officers to first secure the area to ensure the armed suspect did not flee into the neighborhood, and a police helicopter to assist with the containment; however, none was available.  They also requested a ballistic blanket and the Long Beach Police Department’s Mental Evaluation Team. 

Unfortunately, prior to those resources arriving (approximately 7 minutes and 46 seconds after Officer Ortiz arrived on scene), Mr. Zerby raised both arms and extended them out in front of himself while pointing the object believed to be a handgun towards Officer Ortiz.  

Officers Ortiz and Shurtleff fired their weapons in self-defense, striking Mr. Zerby, who was pronounced deceased at the scene.

The release of the findings of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and of Chief McDonnell’s policy review concludes the lengthy and arduous investigation of this incident.  

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