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Federal probe sought in fatal shooting of man holding nozzle

November 4, 2011 |  9:33 am

Douglas Zerby
Family members, civil rights attorneys and community groups are planning to call Friday for a federal investigation into the shooting death of a 35-year-old man by Long Beach police officers who mistook a black water hose nozzle for a gun.

The planned news conference -- organized by the Long Beach Campaign to Stop Police Violence and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER -- comes a day after the Los Angeles County district attorney's office cleared the two officers.

The district attorney's office concluded that Long Beach Police Officers Victor Ortiz and Jeffrey Shurtleff acted lawfully in self-defense when Douglas Zerby pointed what they thought was a handgun at them.

Brian Claypool, attorney for Zerby's family, said the officers should have been prosecuted for negligent homicide. He said the officers did not identify themselves as police officers, nor did they order Zerby to put down the water hose nozzle.

He said a third officer observing Zerby through a rifle scope 56 feet away should have been able to determine the object in Zerby's hands was not a gun.

An autopsy showed that Zerby's blood-alcohol level was 0.42% and he had Valium and THC in his system at the time of his death. Claypool said the high blood-alcohol level would have made it hard for Zerby to be acting in an aggressive manner, as police maintained.

The family has filed a civil lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department for civil rights violations and for negligence, battery and wrongful death, according to Claypool.

A trial date is set for September.

Zerby's sister, Eden Marie Biele, said because the officers never identified themselves as police and never told her brother to drop what was in his hands, Zerby was deprived "of the most fundamental act of due process."


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-- Ruben Vives in Long Beach


Photo: Douglas Zerby. Credit: Associated Press