November 07, 2011

Family calls for federal probe in fatal police shooting

His family stood quietly during a Friday afternoon news conference outside the Long Beach Police Department, holding signs that read, "Justice for Douglas Zerby!" and "Jail Killers Ortiz and Shurtleff."

They listened as their attorney, Brian Claypool, called for a federal probe into last year's fatal police shooting of Zerby, 35, because, Claypool said, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office had mishandled its own investigation.

The call for the federal probe came a day after the district attorney's office cleared Long Beach Police Officers Victor Ortiz and Jeffrey Shurtleff in the shooting.

The findings showed that the officers were acting lawfully in self-defense when they mistook a black spray nozzle in Zerby's hand as a handgun and shot him. It also shows that Zerby had pointed the black spray nozzle at one of the officers in a shooting position.

But since the Dec. 12 incident, Claypool and Zerby's family have said the officers never identified themselves to Zerby, never ordered him to lay down his alleged weapon, and claimed a third officer who was observing Zerby through a rifle scope should have been able to determine that Zerby was not armed with a handgun.

On Friday, Claypool went further by accusing Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley of rubber-stamping the Long Beach Police Department's internal investigation as his office's own, rather than independently investigating the shooting. He questioned the accuracy of the information in the report, including the 23-foot distance one of the officers was from Zerby.

"It was 12 feet," Claypool said.

He also accused Cooley of stalling the investigation and refusing to let him see the investigation file. "They refused to comply with the subpoena until I threatened a motion to compel and seek a court order and monetary sanctions," Claypool said. "And on the day I was to meet in person with the D.A.'s county counsel, the D.A. magically concludes the criminal investigation."

Family members at the news conference expressed their outrage over the results of the investigation.

"I thought the D.A. was conducting an investigation of its own," said Zerby"s mother, Pam Amici. "That's why we stayed quiet, let the law do its thing. But now they're saying they are innocent? The police is suppose to protect and serve, not murder in cold blood."

The family has already filed a civil lawsuit against the department and the city, according to Claypool.

The news conference was organized by the Long Beach Campaign to Stop Violence and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. Organizers say they plan to protest next month on the anniversary of Zerby's death.

-- Ruben Vives in Long Beach - November 5, 2011 | 6:00 am


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