LONG BEACH, Calif. – Angry relatives of a man shot to death by police who apparently mistook a pistol-grip water nozzle he held for a gun are lashing out at officers, saying they made no effort to contact him before opening fire.
However, police officials say Douglas Zerby’s behavior prompted the officers’ response.
“As the subject was in a seated position, he used a two-handed pistol-grip hold on an object with his arms fully extended,” Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said. “Somebody that is impaired and waving what appears to witnesses and police to be a handgun. That’s what the officers were faced with.”
Zerby pointed it at one of the officers and two officers fired their weapons, a handgun and a shotgun. A total of eight shots were fired — two from shot guns and six from a handgun, McDonnell said.
Zerby’s sister, Eden Marie Biele, said officers made no attempt to talk to her 35-year-old brother or get his attention before shooting him to death.
“They didn’t say ‘Put your hands up’ or ‘Freeze’ or anything,” Biele told The Associated Press Monday. “He was killed in cold blood.”
Biele was among the family members whose sobs were heard among McDonnell’s explanations of the events leading to Zerby’s death on Sunday.
“This is a very unfortunate set of circumstances and leaves the family to deal with it here,” McDonnell said, offering his condolences to the Zerby family.
The Long Beach officers were dispatched to an apartment building after two people reported a man with a gun sitting on a backyard porch landing, McDonnell said. In an excerpt of a 911 call played for reporters, a male caller said the man appeared to have a “tiny six-shooter.”
McDonnell said the officers took positions to observe Zerby, who appeared intoxicated, and believed he had a gun as described by the callers, but focused on setting up containment of the area rather than contacting him.
As officers awaited requested backup units, the man pointed the object at apartments and played with it, causing it to make sounds similar to those of a gun being handled, he said.
Both officers were placed on administrative leave, a standard move after a police shooting.
Biele said the family is considering legal action over the shooting.
She said Zerby, who had an 8-year-old son, had been drinking and rather than drive home, went to his friend’s place and was waiting on the stairs for him to come home.
“He never knew there was a problem. Police snuck down the corridor and shot him,” Biele said. “He was a drunk sitting on a stoop fumbling with a hose nozzle.”