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Man carrying water nozzle was shot 10 to 12 times by Long Beach police, family’s attorney says [Updated]

December 17, 2010 |  3:07 pm


[For the record: A previous version of this post stated incorrectly that police ordered shooting victim Douglas Zerby to drop his weapon. Police had been observing Zerby before shooting him; they did not attempt to make contact with him and did not identify themselves to him, according to police and relatives.]

Long Beach police had ample time to identify themselves before firing fatal shots at a 35-year-old man holding a water nozzle, according to the findings of an investigation conducted the family's attorney.

Police fatally shot Douglas Zerby, 35, on Sunday when they believed he posed a threat to their safety. Zerby was carrying a metal-tipped water nozzle and pointed it at officers, authorities said. They believed it to be a gun.

At a news conference Friday in Long Beach, attorney Brian Claypool said it is inaccurate to describe the officer-involved shooting as a tragedy.

"The word tragedy suggests this was an unavoidable event," Claypool said. "It was not a tragedy; it was an ambush. This young man never had a chance."

He said his viewing of Zerby's body showed 21 holes -- 10 to 12 of which he believes were bullet-impact holes; the others were exit wounds.

Claypool said there were three wounds flush down Zerby's chest, which leads him to believe that Zerby was not stretching his arms to point the nozzle at officers.

He said Zerby's body also was found leaning against the banister, leading him to believe that Zerby was not being aggressive and already was incapacitated when the shots were fired.

"That area looks like a shooting range," Claypool said. "It was target practice on Dec. 12, 2010, target practice for the Long Beach Police Department."

Zerby's family said it believes he was intoxicated and had stopped at his friend's house instead of driving home. He was sitting on the stoop waiting for his friend when neighbors spotted him and called 911 because they thought he was armed with a gun.

Claypool said his four-day investigation -- based on the scene and witness reports -- showed that officers had ample time to identify themselves to Zerby and determine that he was not holding a real gun. He said they also had enough time to ask neighbors if they recognized him.

Claypool said he believes there were at least five to six officers on the scene and that three probably shot Zerby. Some shots were fired as close as 12 feet away, he said, from positions of protection behind brick posts.

Police two rounds were fired from a shotgun and six were fired from a handgun.

Claypool does not believe Zerby even knew the officers were there. He said witnesses told him that police made a noise "and that's what triggered Doug Zerby to turn toward the officers and that turn is what caused them to open fire."

The family is planning a lawsuit that alleges wrongful death, negligence and battery. Claypool said the family hopes to make police training reforms as a result of the suit.

"Lethal force being utilized was unnecessary," said Eden Marie Biele, Zerby's older sister. "The things that the Long Beach Police Department are saying are not corroborated by what the scene is saying nor by what Douglas' body is saying ... things are not lining up.... I think in this situation and in this incident there were other steps that could've been followed that would have resulted in a very different outcome."

-- Nardine Saad

Photo: Reacting as the family's lawyer shares the results of his investigation into Douglas Zerby's death are, from left, his youngest brother, Christopher; Stephanie Sentell, the mother of his child; his father, Mark; and his sisters, Eden Marie Biele and Heather Woodland. Credit: Christina House / For the Los Angeles Times