Garo Mardirossian Demands Justice for Victim Douglas Zerby

In the afternoon of December 12, 2010, a 35 year old father, Douglas Zerby was alone inside a small enclosed private courtyard, seated on the second story landing of an apartment staircase leading to his friend’s home, with a water hose nozzle in his hand, waiting for his friend to arrive. When suddenly he was shot and killed by two Long Beach police officers.

Mr. Garo Mardirossian, a highly accomplished and award winning trial lawyer, of Mardirossian & Associates, Inc. represents Douglas’ father, Mark Zerby.

Prior to the fatal shooting, a team of Long Beach police officers were on scene observing for seven minutes and 46 seconds from behind brick walls. The officers recognized that Mr. Zerby was intoxicated because they saw him repeatedly swaying and dropping his head to his chest. The officers never gave Douglas verbal commands and never announced their presence before shooting him twice with a shotgun and 6 times with a Glock pistol. In fact, the officers had taken cover behind brick walls and they made sure Mr. Zerby did not detect them. At the time he was shot, Mr. Zerby did not even know police officers had surrounded and targeted him.

The officers should have been able to determine that Mr. Zerby was not holding a firearm, given the officers’ expertise with firearms and firearm recognition and their testimony that they did not observe distinguishing features of a firearm on the water nozzle Mr. Zerby was holding. The officers were in close proximity to him, one was only 23 feet away. Another officer was using a riflescope. It was daytime, and they had an unobstructed view.

Mr. Zerby had not committed any felony, or any crime at all for that matter. Mr. Zerby did not know the officers were observing him with guns drawn, he did not know that his actions of playing with the water nozzle was being perceived as a threat. The officers agreed that Douglas was not uncooperative, was not resisting the officers or evading the officers, that he never verbally threatened the officers or anyone else.

Police Officers Standards and Training (“POST”) trains officers that deadly force is a last resort only to be used in the direst of circumstances, when all other reasonable measures have been exhausted or are unavailable. Further, POST teaches the reverence for human life and dictates that a warning should be given before using deadly force when feasible. In the instant case, using deadly force was not the last resort and other measures were available and had not been exhausted. The shooting officers showed no reverence for Mr. Zerby’s life and gave no warning before firing even though they had ample opportunity to do so.

The use of deadly force was unreasonable and excessive and the shots fired by Officer Shurtleff and Officer Ortiz should have never been fired. Officer Shurtleff claimed he fired first because he saw Mr. Zerby perk up, raise the nozzle and aim it at Officer Ortiz. The wounds on Mr. Zerby’s body suggest otherwise and that Mr. Zerby did not raise his arms to aim a nozzle at an officer. Investigators at the scene found that a bullet from Officer Shurtleff’s Glock was fired into the lower side of the screened window and damaged a brick wall, while a cluster of other shots were aimed where Mr. Zerby was seated on the landing. Mr. Zerby was never an immediate threat to the officers’ safety and that his fatal shooting occurred as a result of contagious fire from Officer Ortiz’ shotgun precipitated by Officer Shurtleff’s inadvertent discharge of his Glock into a brick wall. Officer Ortiz fired because he heard Shurlleff’s shot and claims to have seen a muzzle flash from Mr. Zerby’s water nozzle. Notably, two other officers, who also had their guns aimed at Mr. Zerby, and were in the same area that Mr. Zerby allegedly aimed the water nozzle, did not shoot.

Douglas Zerby was a native of Long Beach where he was born and lived all of his life. He was a well-liked young man and he left a son, now 11, and a father Mark Zerby, who loved him dearly. Doug loved the water and took after his father Mark who is a boat builder. Doug was a highly-accomplished competitive swimmer and had won hundreds of medals and awards. He grew up and competed with Olympic champion Jason Lezak and was mentored by Rodney Gaines and Janet Evans. He was also a Junior Lifeguard for the City of Long Beach. Doug loved to surf. He learned the skill from his father Mark, and he passed it on by teaching his own son, who now also loves to surf. He also loved to go sailing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in the mountains. Doug was a happy and loving, laid-back guy, a charmer who had the wonderful ability to make friends wherever he went. He was always willing to lend a hand. At the time he died, he was making Christmas plans with his son. He worked alongside his father, cleaning and rebuilding boats and at the time of his death, was supposed to take over his father’s boat-cleaning business on January 1, 2011. Tragically, he was shot dead without warning, 12 days before Christmas, by police officers who were sworn to serve and protect him.

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