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Beachcombing: Thoughts on the Doug Zerby Verdict

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 7
4/10/2013


By Jay Beeler

Recently I had a little too much to drink. Okay, maybe it was more like four times the legal limit for driving, but I was happy nonetheless.

So I decided to go outside to enjoy the fresh air and picked up a garden hose nozzle that was nearby. As I was sitting on our front porch a neighbor apparently saw me playing with the nozzle and thought it looked like a gun. He called the police, even though the chances of anyone in our tony neighborhood yielding a gun are about a gazillion to one.

Unbeknownst to me the police approached our house from various directions and hid behind the hedges, shrubs and trees for their own safety for about five or six minutes.

What happened next is beyond belief. As I raised my garden hose nozzle to marvel at its design, a volley of gunshots rang out, with bullets striking my chest multiple times. Of course, being a mild-mannered publisher related to Clark Kent (aka Superman), the bullets simply bounced off me, doing no harm.

Curious to see what would happen next I played dead. Then a cop came up to the porch and dragged my body off the porch by my feet with my head bouncing hard on the concrete steps while his partner pointed a gun at me. Their final act of kindness was to handcuff my hands and not call paramedics.

At no time did these cops announce their presence or ask me to drop my “weapon.” At a later press conference concerning the incident the police displayed my “weapon,” which they said resembled a gun. The only problem here is that the garden hose nozzle I was holding had a green plastic tip and the “weapon” they produced had the green tip removed.

Last week in Santa Ana a federal jury found that Long Beach Police Officers Jeffrey Shurtleff and Victor Ortiz violated the 4th Amendment rights of Douglas Zerby, 35, in the late afternoon of December 12, 2010 in Belmont Shore by murdering him for fondling a garden hose nozzle. Zerby’s 10-year-old son, River, and his parents were awarded a total of $6.5 million by the jury.

I concur 100 percent with their findings on all nine counts but think the award should have been more.

Any police organization that thinks its officers have license to shoot people without just cause or warning is an organization of village idiots. Any district attorney who subsequently calls the actions of those officers “justified” is a fool.

What if the victim was your son or daughter, playing with a water pistol in your front yard? Whatever happened to common sense?

Granted, police have a tough job and need to have a college degree in psychology to handle the situations they face in daily life. Their “license to kill” is a power that must be balanced against factors like the environment or the threat of a clear and present danger.

The technology exists to have police officers wear a pen-like device that records the sights and sounds in situations like this. Why isn’t it being used?

Where is it written that the police should get the coroner to change their report to make the police look good in this situation? Where is it written that the police have a license to lie on the witness stand? Where it is written that the city attorney should present “facts” that are lies?

Where is it written that the Citizen Police Complaint Commission should be a puppet organization under the LBPD’s control, which it most certainly is? It is a joke and needs to be terminated … now.

This stuff goes on more than you think, people, and I have direct, first-hand knowledge of this. Every single act undertaken by Long Beach personnel is based on one – and only one – overlying question: Will we get sued?

When I took on this job 13 years ago I was told the most influential person in Long Beach was the city attorney, who basically told everyone on the City Council and public safety officers what to do and what to say to prevent the city from getting their clocks cleaned for wrongful acts.

Your best defense against this scenario is a good offense. Put a camera in your car and a recording device in your pocket. They make great Christmas presents at a time when the police you know and trust will lie through their teeth when put on the witness stand.

“Honesty and integrity” are two words that are, unfortunately, missing from this city’s Code of Ethics, which was written by – brace yourself – the city attorney.


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