Dylan Noble, the 19-year-old Clovis man shot and killed in a June 25 confrontation with Fresno police, was intoxicated and had traces of a chemical metabolite of cocaine in his system, the Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office said Tuesday.
The Sheriff’s Office released details from a toxicology report on Noble that showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.12, above the state’s legal driving limit of 0.08. The report also found trace amounts – specifically 470 nanograms/milliliter – of the chemical benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine.
The information released by the Sheriff’s Office did not indicate when Noble might have ingested the chemical. A study published this year noted benzoylecgonine can last in the body a few days, according to the National Library of Medicine.
The death was ruled a homicide, the administrative term for one person killing another. Homicide does not mean murder, which is a legal term for a criminal action. In other words, the coroner is not ruling that a crime was committed – just that Noble was killed.
The exact cause of death was injuries from multiple gunshots to the large and small intestines, right lung, liver, right kidney and mesentery. All rounds fired by the officers were pulled from Noble’s body: three bullets, along with nine buckshot pellets from a single shotgun shell.
The report was given to the Fresno Police Department, Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and FBI – all of which are leading separate investigations of the shooting.
The shooting took place in the parking lot of a Chevron station at Shields and Armstrong avenues in southeast Fresno. Fresno police were responding to a report of a man with a rifle when Noble’s pickup squealed its tires and sped from near Sunnyside Avenue onto Shields.
The toxicology report showed Noble’s blood-alcohol level was 0.12, above the state’s legal driving limit of 0.08. He also had traces in his system of the chemical benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine.
Officers followed the truck to the gas station, where officers, their guns drawn, ordered Noble repeatedly to get on the ground. When he approached them with one hand hidden behind his back, one officer fired two shots from his handgun, and Noble then dropped to the ground.
Noble reached toward his waistband as officers continued ordering him to show his hands. When he didn’t, the officer fired a third round. Another responding officer who was armed with a shotgun fired the final round at Noble. No gun was found on Noble’s body or in his pickup.
Dyer: Investigation continues
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said the shooting remains under investigation. He released the officers’ body camera video on July 13 showing the confrontation. He said at the time he has questions about whether the last two rounds fired by officers were necessary, adding that he has not made a decision yet whether the shooting was justified.
Dyer offered this statement on the autopsy report: “This is one of many pieces of evidence being gathered that will allow our investigators to gain a greater insight as to why Mr. Noble failed to comply with the officers’ repeated commands. As promised, our detectives continue to expedite the completion of this investigation.”
Family’s attorneys: Deep questions remain
The release of the toxicology details angered attorneys for Noble’s family, who have been pressing Fresno police to release details of their investigation into the shooting. Noble’s mother has filed a claim against the city, saying Fresno police made no attempt to use anything less than lethal force.
Attorneys Warren Paboojian and Stuart Chandler said Tuesday evening that they had not received the autopsy report from the Sheriff’s Office.
Paboojian, who represents Noble’s father, Darren, said initially releasing only Noble’s blood-alcohol was an attempt to smear the 19-year-old. Paboojian said what the public really wants to know is which of the four shots killed Noble – the first two while he was standing unarmed in front of the officers, or the final two shots while he was lying on the ground.
“This is gamesmanship on the part of the Sheriff’s Office. I don’t want bits and pieces of the autopsy report,” Paboojian said. The public, he added, “has the right to see the entire report.”
This is gamesmanship on the part of the Sheriff’s Office. I don’t want bits and pieces of the autopsy report.
Attorney Warren Paboojian, who represents Noble’s father
Chandler, who represents Noble’s mother, Veronica Nelson, said the toxicology report “really doesn’t change anything. It does not address why the officers were following Dylan with guns drawn. Why they left their position of safety behind their armored doors if they really thought that he was a threat. Why they did not release the canine. Why they did not attempt to restrain him by use of a non-lethal weapon such as a beanbag shotgun. Why they did not use a Taser. Why they did not use Mace. All of those issues have not been addressed.”
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said Wednesday that both attorneys did not contact her office and ask for the reports until 7 p.m. Tuesday. Her office sent the full reports to the investigating agencies, but she intended only to release a synopsis – not the full report – to the public this week.
She said that Fresno police, the district attorney’s office or the FBI would release it. She added that attorneys typically don’t get their copies until they petition the court for discovery – all of the evidence being used – during either a criminal or civil court proceeding. No criminal charges are believed to have been filed as of Wednesday, and the civil case has only reached filing complaints with the city.
Criminologist: ‘Tragedy with no winners’
Criminologist Eric Hickey, a professor emeritus at Fresno State and dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, called the shooting “a tragedy with no winners,” but he believes the two officers acted appropriately given the situation.
Hickey said that Noble “kept refusing to obey the police order not to reach into his waistband. And people who get shot once usually stop doing stuff. Why was he still reaching? He got shot twice and still kept doing something. If he had had a gun in his hands, he could have shot it from the ground.”
Prior to the release of the toxicology report, Hickey speculated that Noble may have been under the influence.
“If you are under the influence, you wouldn’t have the same capabilities to respond to commands,” he said. “You can make fatal mistakes because you don’t feel the sense of urgency – your inhibitions are gone.”
Hickey continued: “But the officers don’t know that. There was no interview beforehand. It was daytime. They see someone acting this way and have to consider the safety of the other people around.”
Hickey said that officers in Fresno and across the country are not trained to shoot people to wound them, as firing a gun in any circumstance presents a danger to the public.
“If a guy gets wounded, he was lucky,” he said. “Nobody wants to shoot unless they absolutely have to, but you pull the gun out to kill.”
Hickey said he feels for the family, but he also wants the public to consider the officers’ well-being. Killing someone is a traumatic experience that some officers never fully recover from.
‘I hate my (expletive) life’
When he released the body camera video, Dyer said Noble, who was driving the truck, refused to comply with repeated commands to show both his hands, leading the officers to believe that he was armed.
Noble then placed his right hand behind his back as he “walked toward officers very rapidly.”
Dyer said Noble made the comment “I hate my (expletive) life” as he approached police and pulled his hand out “very quickly.”
The shooting followed.
Chandler said Noble’s remark about hating his life could have been a reaction to realizing he “had been drinking and knew that he was about to be arrested for a DUI. The expression is something used by young people of his age as a comment reflecting their distress over their present situation. Like we would have said in the old days, something like ‘busted.’ It was not a literal desire to die, but only a figure of speech about being upset about the situation he was in.”
Noble had one prior brush with the law nearly two years, when he was cited as a minor for reckless driving involving alcohol. Records show that he completed all the court-mandated coursework.
At least three investigations are currently taking place on this shooting: The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office is investigating the shooting; the Fresno Police Department’s internal affairs division, under supervision from the city’s Office of Independent Review, is looking into whether the officers broke department policy; and the FBI is checking into whether any civil rights violations took place.
Fresno’s police auditor has asked the department to speed up its investigation of the shooting.
The FBI will also review the district attorney’s findings.