CA High Court Mulls Privacy of Officers in Shootings

The California Supreme Court considers whether the names of officers in shootings should be released

The state's highest court is expected to make a decision in 90 days after hearing arguments Tuesday on whether the names of police officers involved in shootings are a matter of public record.

The case stems from a 2010 incident involving Long Beach officers who shot and killed without warning a 35-year-old man who was holding a garden hose nozzle that police mistook for a gun.

Hetty Chang will have a full report on the NBC4 News at 5.

The legal battle began after the Los Angeles Times requested the names of officers involved in shootings, and the Long Beach Police Union sued the city to prevent the names from being released.

The court ruled in favor of the newspaper. Tuesday, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear additional arguments after the union petitioned to have the issue reviewed.

Steve James, the president of Long Beach Police Officers Association, said the public has no desire to learn the names of police officers involved in shootings. To do so, he added, is to put their lives and their family's lives in danger.

"Absolutely the people want to know," said Eden Marie James, Zerby's sister. "We have the right to be able to look into these officers that have done this and see --  do they have a history of violence? Do they have a history of not following policy and procedure? Are they harassing people?"

James said her family's life was also threatened after her brother's name was made public.

"My brother was treated like a criminal his name was released, as a result of that, people came to our home, sent us letters, harassed us," said James. "My brother was an innocent victim of a crime."

Nancy Sullivan, a Times spokeswoman, hopes the court sides with the newspaper.

"There is no greater exercise of government power than the ability to take someone's life," she said in a statement. "The public has the right to know the identities of police officers who exercise lethal force."

Long Beach police shot Doug Zerby while they were investigating a 911 call of a man with a gun. He pointed the black metal-tipped object at them with both hands, said Chief Jim McDonnell at the time. Zerby pointed the nozzle at apartments and played with it, causing it to make sounds like a gun, McDonnell said.

Zerby pointed it at one of the officers and two officers fired their weapons, a handgun and a shotgun.

James said officers killed "in cold blood." The family won $6.5 million in damages after a jury found the officers violated Zerby's civil rights.

"He was a drunk sitting on a stoop fumbling with a hose nozzle," James said at the time in an interview with the Associated Press.

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