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Long Beach officers cleared in 'water nozzle' fatal shooting case

November 3, 2011 |  2:31 pm

Water nozzleTwo Long Beach Police officers who shot and killed a 35-year-old man last December when they mistook a water hose nozzle for a gun, acted in self-defense, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office said Thursday.

The findings of the investigation show that Douglas Zerby was in possession of an object believed by both residents and responding officers to be a firearm, and that his arms were consistent with someone having both arms extended straight out and pointing it at an officer at the time of the shooting, according to a statement from the Long Beach Police Department.

The findings also identify the two officers involved as Officer Victor Ortiz, a 10-year veteran, and Officer Jeffrey Shurtleff, a six-year veteran.

The shooting, which took place on Dec. 12, was investigated by Long Beach Police, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s Justice System of Integrity Division and the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Long Beach Police officers arrived at an apartment in the Belmont Shore neighborhood around 4:43 p.m. after a neighbor reported a man with a handgun. He was later identified as Douglas Zerby.

Zerby sat on a landing with his back to an apartment building, holding what police believed was a handgun, pointing it to his side and waving it around as Ortiz and Shurtleff took cover inside a nearby apartment. The officers did not attempt to identify themselves to Zerby nor did they order him to drop his weapon.

"From the moment Officer Ortiz arrived on scene, he and responding officers began to form a plan to safely take Mr. Zerby into custody," according to Thursday's statement. 

The officers requested additional officers, a police helicopter and the Long Beach Police Department’s Mental Evaluation Team. But when Zerby outstretched his arms and pointed the nozzle at them, both officers fired. Ortiz was 38 feet away when he fired his shotgun and Shurtleff was about 23 feet away when he fired his handgun.

Zerby was pronounced dead at the scene and a black pistol-grip water nozzle with a metal tip was recovered. A third officer watched Zerby 56 feet away through a telescopic sight of a rifle, but did not fire, according to the findings.

An autopsy showed that Zerby had been shot 12 times. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.42% and had valium and THC in his system at the time of his death.


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-- Ruben Vives

Photo: The water nozzle Douglas Zerby was carrying when he was fatally shot by Long Beach police officers. Credit: Long Beach Police Department