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Jury awards $6.5M for death after police mistook water nozzle for gun

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POSTED April 4, 2013 10:10 p.m.

SANTA ANA  (AP) — A federal jury in Southern California awarded $6.5 million in damages Thursday to the family of a man fatally shot by police while he held a pistol-gripped water nozzle they mistook for a gun.

After a day of deliberations, the federal jury in Santa Ana ruled that two Long Beach police officers were negligent and violated the civil rights of 35-year-old Douglas Zerby in the December 2010 shooting.

The panel awarded $3.5 million to Zerby's 10-year-old son River, $2 million to Zerby's father, Mark Zerby, and $1 million to his mother, Pam Amici.

"I was praying for justice for my son," Mark Zerby told City News Service. "My job as his father was to see if we could get this case here and my job was done."

Zerby was drunk when he was spotted holding what neighbors and police thought was a gun as he sat on the front stoop of a friend's apartment, according to an investigation by Los Angeles County prosecutors, who declined to file criminal charges against the officers.

He was pulling the lever of the nozzle, which made sounds similar to a handgun, investigators said. When he pointed it toward police, veteran officers Jeff Shurtleff and Victor Ortiz shot him multiple times.

Zerby family attorneys argued that officers did not identify themselves and never gave a verbal warning to Zerby before shooting. The city's attorneys argued that the officers believed their lives were in danger, and that neighbors who witnessed the incident also thought the nozzle was a gun.

"There's no question this is a tragic series of events," Monte Machit, an attorney for Long Beach, said in his closing argument. "It comes down to, did they act reasonably under the circumstances?"

Machit declined to comment after the verdict.

 

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