In an emotional news conference, Doug Zerby's family spoke lovingly of him and decried Long Beach Police officers for opening fire on an unarmed man without every identifying themselves.
Doug Zerby’s mother, Pamala Amici, who chairs the math department at Long Beach Poly High School, recalled her oldest son’s regular phone calls during her lunch breaks.
“He would call me in my classroom, and his favorite lines were 'momma, I love you,'" Amici said, as tears welled up in her eyes. "And I’m never going to hear, 'Momma, I love you' again.”
Amici spoke at a news conference at the Long Beach mortuary where Zerby’s body lay after he was shot by police. In an interview, she said her son had loved the water. Growing up, he swam with Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak and surfed the Southern California coast.
“He was a junior lifeguard program here in Long Beach, and a national champion of the junior lifeguard program," she said. "He was a great athlete, very competitive.”
Amici said her son loved snowboarding too. He taught in Aspen and Mammoth for a time before he returned to Long Beach to work as a commercial diver with his father. He also opened a hardwood flooring business.
Zerby’s mother said her son also struggled.
“He had a drinking problem, and he had been in rehab," Amici said. "He has had numerous periods of sobriety. He just unfortunately started drinking again about six months ago.”
Police said it appeared Zerby was intoxicated when they approached him.
“I’ve heard a lot of people saying that he was an alcoholic, just a dumb drunk who deserved to die," said Heather Woodland, Zerby's younger sister. "To those people I want to say shame on you."
Woodland said her brother was a good man who suffered from alcoholism.
"But that is no excuse to shoot and kill him when he hasn’t broken a law and done anything wrong.”
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said his department received a call about a man with a gun around 4:30 Sunday afternoon. They responded to a small apartment complex along Ocean Boulevard in Belmont Shore, a nice section of the city.
The chief said his officers sneaked up on Zerby, who appeared intoxicated as he sat on his friend’s stairs. Officers said he pointed what looked like a gun in their direction and they opened fire. It turned out to be a water nozzle with a pistol grip.
The chief has disclosed few other details about what happened.
“They set up a perimeter like snipers, like they’re ready to shoot Charles Manson or like they’re in Afghanistan," said attorney Brian Claypool, who represents Zerby’s family.
Claypool wondered why police never identified themselves before shooting. "That’s not acceptable," he said. "We know that the shooting was objectively unreasonable.”
Claypool said the family intends to sue the Long Beach Police Department.
At the news conference, Chris Zerby spoke about the brother he lost as he fought back tears.
“I just wanted to say I loved him very much and he’s been taken from me," Chris Zerby said. "I was supposed to see him on Christmas and now I don’t get to even see him any more.”
Eden-Marie Biele said her younger brother Doug Zerby fathered a son named River, with whom he spent a lot of time.
“You know an eight-year-old little boy is upset right now, crying," she said. "He doesn’t understand what happened to his daddy. He is angry. He is mad. And he’s never going to see his father again."
Long Beach police have promised a full investigation into the shooting.
The family's attorney said an outside agency should also examine it.