The 35-year-old Long Beach man killed in an officer-involved shooting Sunday was holding a pistol-grip water nozzle, not a gun, Long Beach police officials said Monday.
Two officers responded to a 911 call at 4:40 p.m. Sunday from a neighbor reporting an intoxicated man holding a “six-shooter” in the 5300 block of East Ocean Boulevard in the upscale Belmont Shore neighborhood.
“The officers had a position of cover and were observing the suspect while other officers were en route,” said Sgt. Dina Zapalski, a spokeswoman for the Long Beach Police Department.
Zapalski said Douglas Zerby had been sitting on a stoop playing with what appeared to be a weapon and pointing it at objects as if it were a gun. He extended his arms and pointed in the direction of an officer. Police said they did not have time to make their presence known or to tell Zerby to drop the weapon before opening fire because they believed he was a threat.
“They wanted to shoot him before he shot them,” Zapalski said. “There was no time to react. If you’re standing there and someone points a gun at you, you’re going to react....There was only two of them there. This happened first, and that’s why they shot.”
Zerby was shot in the torso with a shotgun and handgun, then handcuffed, Zapalski said. He died at the scene.
Zerby, a hardwood floor installer who ran Seaside Flooring in Long Beach, is survived by an 8-year-old son.
Authorities said this was the first fatal officer-involved shooting this year. There have been nine non-fatal shootings in 2010.
Zerby’s older sister, Eden Marie Biele, said she was mortified by her brother’s death. The two were very close and had spoken a few days before he died, she said.
“Our brother was killed for no reason,” she said. “We’re outraged. You can’t get drunk in the city of Long Beach and not get shot? You’re trying to do the responsible thing and not drive and you get shot? Is that standard protocol? They didn’t wait for backup, they just shot him.”
Zapalski said the officers involved were not rookies but could not immediately say how many years they had served with the department.
Staci Liken, 45, said she saw a police car and a Long Beach Marine Patrol SUV make a U-turn before two officers got out and made their way to the back building where Zerby was sitting. She said within 30 seconds she heard two types of gunshots. She counted at least 15 shots fired.
“This is supposed to be the safest neighborhood around. I don’t know what’s going on with the police,” she said. “This is out of control to shoot and kill when they don’t need to.”
Zerby had been sitting on the stoop of a friend’s house waiting for the friend to return. He often frequented the apartment after he had been drinking and was known to neighbors, his sister said. It was a new tenant who was unfamiliar with Zerby who made the 911 call, she said.
Scores of family and friends gathered at the scene Monday night to light candles and leave flowers and a small Christmas tree.
Her brother was “the happy-go-lucky life of the party,” Biele said. “He never ended a phone call without professing his love to you,” she said.
Zerby was the second of five children, with blond hair and the build of a surfer. “He was a dear friend, he was an awesome person,” said a tearful Douglas Blair, 42, who lived in the studio apartment where Zerby was waiting.
Blair said it was Zerby’s third time stopping by his apartment because he was too drunk to go home.
Quarter-sized bullet holes and dozens of smaller ones pierced Blair’s staircase and handrails. Two pools of blood remained under the steps to his apartment.
“It’s a wonderful place to live, and it’s a terrible thing to have happen,” Blair said.
Mark Zerby, Douglas Zerby’s father, said he last spoke to his son about an hour before he was killed. He noticed that his son, who had a drinking problem for which he had sought help, was slightly drunk.
“He said he wanted to come over and I told him that I was busy,” the father said. “And the rest of it is the biggest nightmare you can imagine.”
Friends hugged Zerby’s family and offered up memories to ease their pain.
“He took us swimming, he bought us cupcakes in 85-degree weather,” said Julie McKernie Hampton, 40, who was Zerby’s friend and neighbor. “I just can’t imagine Doug having a gun.”
Biele was outraged by the officers’ actions and the inconsistencies in the account. She said police first told her that her brother had been fiddling with the nozzle in his lap, then police Chief Jim McDonnell said Zerby was actually pointing it at the officers.
She bluntly spoke out at a news conference held by McDonnell on Monday and was eventually escorted out.
“We want justice to be served,” she said. “It’s about bringing attention to a senseless death.” She said her family has already contacted attorneys.
The Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office will conduct independent investigations into the shooting.