Crime & Justice

DA clears Long Beach officers in killing of unarmed man

This image released by the Long Beach Police shows the black pistol grip water hose nozzle held by Doug Zerby before being shot to death by Long Beach Police officers on Sunday afternoon.
This image released by the Long Beach Police shows the black pistol grip water hose nozzle held by Doug Zerby before being shot to death by Long Beach Police officers on Sunday afternoon.
AP Photo/Long Beach Police
This image released by the Long Beach Police shows the black pistol grip water hose nozzle held by Doug Zerby before being shot to death by Long Beach Police officers on Sunday afternoon.
A photo of a poster of Douglas Zerby.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC


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Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley on Thursday cleared two Long Beach Police officers who shot and killed a man holding a garden hose nozzle last December. Cooley's office called it a "tragic mistake."

The report by Cooley's office said the officers “reasonably believed” that Douglas Zerby was armed with a handgun. The report called it a lawful shooting by officers who thought their lives were in danger.

The DA for the first time names the officers who killed Zerby: Officer Jeffrey Shurtleff, a six-year member of the Long Beach Police Department, and Officer Victor Ortiz, a 10-year veteran.

On the afternoon of Dec. 12, 2010, Long Beach cops responded to reports of a man with a gun. They snuck up on Zerby, 35, who had been drinking and was actually holding a garden hose nozzle while sitting on a friend’s back porch steps.

"Shurtleff believed that Zerby was waiting for someone to enter the courtyard in order to ambush him. Shurtleff watched as Zerby extended his arm and pointed the firearm south toward the location where Ortiz was positioned inside the front house," the DA's report states.

Shurtleff opened fire.

"Believing that Zerby was shooting at him, Ortiz fired his shotgun at Zerby," the report said.

Zerby, a Long Beach native and father of an eight-year-old son, was pronounced dead at the scene. His family has called the killing an "assassination."

“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, shortly after her brother's death. "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,” she said.

Zerby apparently never knew the officers were watching him. They never identified themselves as they approached. Police said they wanted to "secure the location" before giving verbal commands to Zerby.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell joined the DA in clearing his officers.

McDonnell "found the actions of both officers to be within department policy and consistent with departmental guidelines." A statement from the Long Beach Police Department said the reviews by the chief and DA concludes a "lengthy and arduous investigation of this incident."