This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.
This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.
$6.5M Awarded to Family of Man Fatally Shot By Cops Who Mistook His Water Nozzle For a Gun
The family of a man fatally shot by police officers who mistook the water hose handle he was holding for a gun have been awarded $6.5 million in a lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department.
Douglas Zerby, 35, was shot to death December 12, 2010, when he was confronted by officers responding to calls of an armed intoxicated man outside an apartment building.
An autopsy report revealed Zerby was hit 12 times with shotgun pellets and bullets from a handgun and was grazed three times. The report additionally confirmed reports from the involved officers who said Zerby had his arms extended and was pointing the nozzle in the direction of the hiding spot of one of the responding officers, causing that officer to be threatened.
It was not possible to determine conclusively if Zerby even knew the officers were there, and that he was directing the nozzle's aim at them. The officers are accused of not having properly identified themselves or given Zerby any commands.
Ultimately, the District Attorney declined to file charges against the officers, saying they acted lawfully.
As a result of a lawsuit filed agains the department asking for as much as $21.5 million, a jury panel awarded $2 million to Zerby's father, $1 million to his mother, and $3.5 million to his son, according to City News Service.
In a Santa Ana courtroom, attorneys for Zerby's relatives argued the officers were negligent, and violated Zerby's constitutional rights, however an attorney representing the LBPD refuted the officers acted lawfully, echoing the previous ruling by the DA.
Further, jurors took into consideration the fact that Zerby was "highly intoxicated" during the incident.
One officer attested he had seen "muzzle fire" from what was ultimately determined to be the nozzle Zerby was holding. Lawyers for Zerby's family argued that the LBPD had taken part in "contagious fire," after shooting unnecessarily and without warning.
The lawyer for the LBPD said the officers were "just moments" from announcing their presence and issuing commands to Zerby when they noticed Zerby point the nozzle at one of the officers. Another officer then had "no option" but to open fire.
"I was praying for justice for my son,'' Mark Zerby said of the lawsuit and the award verdict. "My job as his father was to see if we could get this case here and my job was done."