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Feature Stories

Officers Found Liable in Death

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 8
4/19/2013


By Jeremy Matusow

By Jeremy Matusow

After one day of deliberations, a jury found two Long Beach police officers liable for the death of Douglas Zerby. Officers Jeffrey Shurtleff and Victor Ortiz were responsible for the shooting and killing of Zerby, 35, on Dec. 12, 2010, who at the time was sitting on a stoop playing with a pistol-grip hose nozzle at a friend’s apartment that the police had mistaken for a gun.

In an undisputed decision, the jury found that the officers had violated Zerby’s 4th Amendment Constitutional rights as well as committing battery and were negligent. Attorneys for the Zerby family were looking for $21.5 million in damages, but only managed to receive about a third of that sum. His mother, Pam Amici, received $1 million. His father, Mark, received $2 million and his son, River, received $3.5 million.

Zerby’s older sister, Eden Marie Biele, believes that this particular case is about much bigger issues than just her brother.

“The verdict was a victory not only for our family, but for every citizen in the United States,” said Biele. “My brother’s 4th Amendment rights were violated and a jury of our peers and fellow citizens saw that.”

Attorneys for the plaintiff believed that Zerby could have been any other individual and did not deserve to be heartlessly gunned down without at least a warning or having officers identify themselves. Biele believes that the final verdict brings liberation to her family.

“This is a validation for us,” said Biele. “It’s exactly what we said all along.”

Pam Amici stated that she had planned to attend a Long Beach City Council meeting to discuss the verdict as well as Officers Shurtleff and Ortiz being stripped of their badges.

Family members believed that the financial awards received were extraneous and thus would be provided for Zerby’s son. Dale Galipo, who represented Zerby’s mother and son, was satisfied with the verdict and delighted to see the reactions of the family as they hugged and cried.

“Federal court is tricky because you need a unanimous verdict,” said Galipo. “Seeing the jury come down on the family’s side on every issue was a great victory for the plaintiffs. This was a thoughtful and courageous jury.”

Brian Claypool, who is another attorney that has been with the Zerby family from the beginning, saw issues that were larger than Zerby.

“This to me is a public confirmation of the fact that the Long Beach Police Department was unjustified, reckless and careless in failing to give Doug a command,” said Claypool. “The use of deadly force was categorically excessive, unjust and unreasonable.”
Claypool stated that Zerby was unarmed, had not committed a crime and was not a threat toward any other individual. However, the city will have the opportunity to appeal the verdict or at-tempt to reach a settlement.

Long Beach Deputy City Attorney Monte Machit is weighing the options regarding an appeal. However, it is still uncertain whether or not the Long Beach City Attorney’s office will appeal the ruling.
“We are evaluating the possibility of appeal,” Machit said. “We have to look at what issues might give rise to an appeal. We want to give due consideration to that.”

Biele believes that Shurtleff and Ortiz deserve to face criminal prosecution. She is not against the police or the city of Long Beach for that matter, but she does consider police violence to be an increasing issue.

“We love Long Beach, but that doesn’t make this excusable,” said Biele.

Amici stated that the day was bittersweet.

“All I ever wanted is to reverse time and bring my son back,” said Amici.

The Zerby case commenced in December 2010. Officers Shurtleff and Ortiz had responded to a 911 call reporting a man with a “small six-shooter” in an Ocean Boulevard courtyard. Within eight minutes of the call, Zerby was pronounced dead.

jeremy@longbeachcomber.com