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Long Beach police chief speaks to 'clarify' officer-involved shooting

In a news conference, Jim McDonnell says two officers fired on Douglas Zerby after he pointed what they thought was a gun but turned out to be a water hose nozzle. He says autopsy results are consistent with officers' story.

March 15, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times
  • Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell held a news conference Monday to release new details about a December shooting by officers.
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell held a news conference Monday to release… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

A 35-year-old man was struck 12 times by gunfire in the chest, arms and lower legs last December when police mistook a water hose nozzle he was holding for a gun, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said at a news conference Monday.

McDonnell told reporters that he wanted to offer further details about the fatal shooting and "clarify outstanding issues." He said a coroner's report showed that Douglas Zerby was hit 12 times with shotgun pellets and bullets from a handgun and was grazed three times.

Zerby's family and friends have criticized the shooting and said police had ample opportunity to realize the man posed no threat.

McDonnell said the incident began about 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 12 when officers arrived at an apartment in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach after a neighbor had reported a man with a handgun, McDonnell said.

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 two officers took cover inside a nearby apartment, the police chief said.

It wasn't until seven minutes after officers arrived, when Zerby outstretched his arms and pointed the nozzle at them, that the officers fired, McDonnell said. One officer, he said, fired six rounds from a handgun from 23 feet away and a second officer fired two rounds from a shotgun at a distance of 38 feet.

A third officer watched Zerby from more than 60 feet away through the telescopic sight of a rifle, but did not fire.

McDonnell said the coroner's findings were consistent with officers' accounts that Zerby was seated with his hands close together and raised up in front of him, facing the officers, when they fired.

"Sadly, we will never know for sure what prompted Mr. Zerby to raise his hands and point the object in that direction or what he was aware of at that particular time," McDonnell said, "but that action ultimately resulted in the officer-involved shooting."

Officers did not announce their presence or order Zerby to drop the weapon before firing. An attorney for Zerby's family has said officers had plenty of time to identify themselves before shooting.

The autopsy also found that Zerby had a blood-alcohol level of 0.42% and had valium and THC in his system at the time of his death, McDonnell said.

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