[UPDATED with Jury Rules FOR Douglas Zerby Family:] Long Beach Police Officers Negligent
ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 3, 2:13 P.M.: A $21.5 million civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Long Beach over cops fatally shooting a guy holding a gardening water nozzle on a friend's Belmont Shore porch is now in the hands of the jury. Deliberations began after closing arguments at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, where jurors must decide whether police were at fault and what damages the city should pay for the 2010 killing of 35-year-old Douglas Zerby.
My colleague Michelle Woo and I covered the highly charged case in 2010 and 2011:
Includes original shooting report: In-Custody Death and Police Killing of Andres Ramirez Put DA's New Disclosure Policy to the Test
Rally Today for Long Beach Resident Douglas Zerby, Fatally Shot for Holding Water Nozzle
Long Beach Man Fatally Shot for Holding a Water Nozzle Had His Arms Outstretched As Though Pointing a Gun, Police Chief Says
Victims of Brutality Protest Awards Ceremony for Long Beach Cops
Cops Cleared in The Fatal Shooting of Douglas Zerby
Zerby was playing with the pistol-grip nozzle on a home's stoop in the 5300 block of East Ocean Boulevard around 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010. Long Beach Police later disclosed they'd received a call about a possibly intoxicated man with a six-shooter in front of the same address. Without warning, responding officers Jeffrey Shurtleff and Victor Ortiz shot and killed Zerby.
After four months of rallies, harsh criticism from Zerby's family and demands for a federal investigation of the police department, Chief Jim McConnell revealed what he characterized as previously undisclosed "facts" like the civilian had extended his arm holding the nozzle as if pointing a weapon at officers. The Los Angeles District Attorney cleared Shurtleff and Ortiz in a November 2011 report.
The cops doing no wrong and sticking to their police training were themes picked up the city's defense team, which argued in Judge Andrew Guilford's courtroom that it was a rapidly evolving situation in Belmont Shore that, based on Zerby's sudden moves, made the officers fear they were in imminent danger that required immediate lethal force.
But the attorney representing Zerby's mother, Pam Amici, and son, River, countered that even if the evidence supported the defense's story (and it didn't, according to the lawyer), that did not change the fact that the man was holding what the cops clearly should have recognized as a water nozzle. The attorney for the dead man's father, Mark Zerby, accused police of setting out with a dangerous mindset after receiving a 9-1-1 call about a man with "a gun or something."
UPDATE, APRIL 4, 1:41 P.M.: The jury just came back with a verdict finding Long Beach police officers were negligent and that they violated Douglas Zerby's constitutional rights when they shot him to death in 2010.
The dead man's family should receive $6.5 million in damages, the jury in Santa Ana recommended.
Courtroom observers said Zerby family members were jubilant and Long Beach police officers and officials were staring in disbelief after the verdict was read.
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