Letters to Editor
Contested Zerby Verdict
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 20
I would like to congratulate the Beachcomber and reporter, Kirt Ramirez, for the depth of reporting provided relative to the Long Beach City Attorney deciding to appeal the unanimous jury verdict that held two Long Beach police officers responsible for the wrongful death in the shooting of Douglas Zerby. [City Challenges Zerby Verdict, September 20, 2013]
This is the kind of reporting the people need in order to understand exactly what is going on in our city. Our neighborhoods are rife with rumors surrounding the elements of Zerby’s death and many of those rumors have been put to rest now that your paper has reported Marie Biele-James’ detailed observations at the trial and exposed the public deceptions promoted by the police department and city attorney.
City Hall tells us there was an “independent” investigation by the District Attorney, but what they don’t say is that the D.A.’s office conducts investigations and makes decisions aimed at determining the probable success of a criminal conviction. In my experience the D.A’s “success threshold” in deciding to prosecute hovers around a 95% certainty of conviction. The D.A. knows that juries are reluctant to convict police officers, thus it is rare that they file criminal charges. That does not mean, however, that the officers did not err in their judgement or that the police department should proclaim that their conduct was within the department’s use of force policy and/or tactical training/decision-making parameters.
The important issue for the public to understand is that the D.A. does not examine accommodation of police shooting policy, the police tactics employed leading up to the shooting (that may have prevented a shooting) or training needs exposed as a result of the totality of the incident. That is the job of the police department, so as to prevent future “tragedies.”
I would be interested to know just what the police department shooting board and the so-called “independent” Civilian Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) concluded in their assessment of this “tragedy,” as their responsibility is to review the administrative, training and employee retention concerns surrounding the incident, rather than the elements of a criminal prosecution. Clearly, there are major training issues that should have been exposed and addressed on all manner of tactics employed that lead up to the shooting, as well as the accuracy of official public reports made to the community following the killing of Mr. Zerby.
I have been told (and have seen evidence that supports the telling) that even this kind of examination is avoided by the city because such reviews and investigations necessarily produce a paper trail that the city attorney wants to avoid in the event a law suit follows police misconduct.
If this is the case, and there is evidence that suggests it is, then the cycle of questionable shootings and improper use of force will continue because the “system” tells its police officers that “they did everything right.’ Thus, a sense of impunity continues to embolden their conduct in the field, such as that seen last week in the police clubbing of Porfirio Santos-Lopez, all of which was justified on the spot by a field sergeant as necessary because Santos-Lopez was “adamant that he was not going to roll over onto his stomach. “
I reviewed the full tape of the Santos-Lopez beating. The force used was excessive. The officers were wrong. The sergeant was wrong in suggesting that such force is justified when a verbal command is ignored, especially when the suspect is surrounded by five police officers. Now, the question is, will the Santos-Lopez beating be handled like the Zerby shooting was handled? Will a responsible investigative/review “paper trail” be avoided so as to avoid arming Santos-Lopez with evidence for a civil suit at the expense of weeding out the unfit and building professionalism within our police department.
A unanimous civil jury found that the officers who shot and killed Douglas Zerby were wrong. Instead of a knee jerk decision to appeal, one would hope that City Hall would seriously examine just why a group of citizens, exposed to much more detail – and factual truths – than even the District Attorney had, would make that finding.
Instead of filing an appeal, City Hall should take this opportunity to re-examine the internal investigative and adjudication processes surrounding the use of force by Long Beach police officers and also determine just how “independent” the Civilian Police Complaint Commission really is. I note that the CPCC does not hire and fire its own executive director nor its investigators. That alone is evidence that they have no real independence, as we in the community are constantly lead to believe.
Deputy Chief, LAPD (ret.)