[UPDATED with Jury Rules FOR Douglas Zerby Family:] Long Beach Police Officers Negligent

Categories: Long Beach
See the update at the end of this post about the jury ruling for the dead man's family.
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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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Zerby Attorney Requests DA Re-open Case

Zerby found sitting on hose nozzle officers CLAIMED he pointed at them.  Officers also admitted at trial that shooting was accidental and not in defense as Police Chief McDonnell told the public.   Police also modified hose nozzle to resemble a hand gun prior to photographing for the media.  Below letter from Zerby family lawyer.......

10377 Los Alamitos Boulevard
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Tel: (562) 795-5835
Fax: (562) 795-5821

September 21, 2013

Shannon Presby
Deputy District Attorney
County ofLos Angeles
Justice System Integrity Division
210 W. Temple St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012-3210

Re: Death of Douglas Zerby
JSID File # 1 0-0966
LBPD #10-83768

Dear Mr. Presby,

I am writing concerning your November 3,2011 correspondence to LBPD Chief of Police Jim McDonnell related to the District Attorney's investigation into the afore referenced OIS. You letter concluded that officers Shurtleff and Ortiz "actually and reasonably believed Zerby was armed" and "raised the object in a two-handed shooting posture and pointed it directly at Ortiz" whereupon Shurtleff was reasonable in concluding that deadly force was necessary." Your correspondence closed the file and publically exonerated Ortiz and Shurtleff from criminal liability as having acted in lawful self defense and the defense of others. My letter on behalf of Mark Zerby, the decedent's father, seeks to reopen that file and to seek a redetermination based on the results of the evidence that came out of the family's lawsuit and trial which fully refuted the shooter's claimed justification for firing at Zerby and directly contradicts the DA's grounds for declining to prosecute the shooting officers.

On April 4, 2013 a unanimous jury in the Santa Ana federal court came to the opposite conclusion. They found Officers Ortiz and Shurtleff had did not shoot in self defense or in defense of one another. Rather, the trial proved both officer’s justifications for shooting Mark Zerby were completely fabricated and proven so by the forensic and testimonial evidence. Your investigation lacked statements from Ortiz and Shurtleff by reason of LBPD OIS custom and practice allowing shooters not to give statements immediately after a shooting. We had their depositions as well as the testimony of other officers and civilians on scene which ultimately condemned them. Both officers were found liable for punitive damages because of the fraud they perpetrated on the Zerby family, your office and the public.

With the exception of the shooting officers' statements, the evidence the civil jury was presented was identical to what your office had before it to review. All it really took was a careful analysis of the forensics to disprove the officers' self serving explanations. This was largely based on the LBPD OIS investigation evidence which proved that Shurtleff accidentally discharged the first round from his Glock and all other rounds were contagious fire. Shurtleff’s AD round was traced from his weapon's muzzle, glanced off the banister nowhere near where Mr. Zerby sat and came to rest between the two buildings, at the back door of the front residence and the entry to the garage. This AD round was shown not to have been aimed at Zerby at all and was identified as evidence item # l0 in the forensic report your office had to analyze. LBPD criminologist Troy Ward's report confirmed that this AD round glanced off the brick reveal and ricocheted to its resting place. As you may recall, Shurtleff claimed he intentionally fired his first and all successive rounds because he believed Zerby was pointing the hose nozzle in his hands in the direction of Ortiz. This was shown to be a complete fabrication designed to give the appearance of justification for deadly force. At this deposition and at the trial, Ortiz admitted he fired his shotgun only in response to the discharge of Shurtleff's weapon and did not respond to a threat of being shot by Zerby.

We were able to prove the sound of Shurtleff’s discharge resulted in Ortiz's firing one of his shotgun rounds, Shurtleff then quickly fired his remaining 5 rounds directly at Mr. Zerby, fatally wounding him. The second shotgun round was discharged on an open mike, captured on the LBPD communications recording. This tape confirmed the two shotgun rounds did not immediately follow one another, as Ortiz claimed during the OIS investigation. In the end, there was no controlled firing in defense of anyone and neither Shurtleff nor Ortiz were in danger of being shot, even if Zerby had a firearm and not a garden hose nozzle. Officer 0rtiz was fully concealed and protected by a brick fireplace. Shurtleff was also concealed and covered by a brick wall. Both officers admitted Mr. Zerby would have no basis to believe either one of them was present or could see either one of them or that officers had an eye on Zerby during the 7 minutes the officers kept their silence, gave no commands or warning to Zerby before shooting him dead.

An officer standing above Ortiz pointing his firearm at Zerby held his fire recognizing Zerby was no threat when Shurtleffs AD discharged. Nor did another officer who had his AR-15 rifle with a magnifying scope trained on Zerby's hands. Significantly, the garden hose nozzle that the officers claimed Zerby pointed menacingly in their direction causing them to fire was found beneath Mr. Zerby's thigh as he sat on a landing throughout the shooting. If the nozzle had been poi-nted as the officers claimed, there was no possible way for the "gun" to have ended up beneath any part of Zerby and particularly not under his thigh given the officers testimony concerning how Zerby was seated.

All of this proof was in the OIS investigation materials LBPD provided to the District Attorney for review. That review, in our judgment, was too deferential to the shooters' self serving mantra of self defense and defense of others when the OIS investigation showed the opposite.

For these reasons, request is hereby made on behalf of the Zerby family members to reopen the aforementioned file, commence a proper evaluation of the known evidence and file appropriate criminal charges. When objectively undertaken, there is ample probable cause for the prosecution of both officers for manslaughter in the intentional slaying of Douglas Zerby and for corruptly conspiring among themselves to give the appearance of lawful justification, in violation of Cal Penal Code §182, subdivisions (1) and (5).


Thomas Beck                        


I hope all this money comes from liberal that complains about the police. A grown man playing with something that looks like a gun, in a City Like Long Beach?


Why are they not being charged for murder.


After looking @ scene I am convinced the cops murdered doug zerby

paullucas714 topcommenter

Im very encouraged by this verdict. N ow lets see the same for the Kelly Thomas murderers, and the out of control cops in Anaheim and literally all over the OC and So California.

18usc241 topcommenter

Long Beach  Police Chief Ronald McDonald blindly obeys illegal orders to harass Americans because the Constitution says so or something. 


Long Beach cops have a track record of misconduct and coverups. Cops shot a guy 4-times in front of Legends in Belmont Shore 3-years ago. That law suit recently went to court and it was determined in court from multiple witness accounts that Long Beach Police LIED about why they fired upon the guy, costing us taxpayers $millions in the court verdict.

In fact the SAME COP was sued again soon afterwards for misconduct resulting in even more payouts of taxpayer's money.  Do you wonder why Long Beach still employ this cop? Could it be because he is the nephew of Long Beach Superintendent of Schools Chris Steinhaur?


According to the Cato Institute (figure 10 in below link), the per capita frequency rate for cops murdering or assaulting someone is greater than the per capita frequency rate of the general public.


They further state, "While the rate of police officers officially charged with murder is only 1.06% higher than the current general population murder rate, if excessive force complaints involving fatalities were prosecuted as murder the murder rate for law enforcement officers would exceed the general population murder rate by 472%."


Results from the first day of trial:

1. Contrary to public statements by Police Chief O'Donnell, the deputy coroner described in court how Zerby may have been sitting cross-legged with his arms at his side and unaware when he was fired upon.

2. Contrary to public statements by Police Chief O'Donnell, Dr. Juan Carrillo, the deputy medical examiner, said it was possible Zerby never raised his arms into a shooting position as the police claimed and was in a slumped position when shot.

3. Four Long Beach police officer's had their guns trained on Zerby, not two as previously claimed. However, only two officers fired their weapons inflicting 12 bullet wounds in Zerby's body.

4. The police who fired upon Zerby were not the officer who Police claim Zerby was pointing the hose nozzle at. That officer did NOT feel threatened enought to fire on Zerby himself.

5. A Lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said the officers didn't need to shoot Zerby and had no reason not to give him an opportunity to drop the nozzle before using lethal force. "The only reasonable thing to do is announce your presence. There has to be a reasonable ability (by the suspect) to reply.

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