The father of Dylan Noble, who was fatally shot by Fresno police during a traffic stop in June, has filed a civil rights wrongful-death lawsuit against the city and its Police Department that contends two officers used excessive force when they fired on the intoxicated 19-year-old as he lay wounded.
In the lawsuit, Fresno attorneys Warren Paboojian and Jason Bell accuse officers Raymond Camacho and Robert Chavez of shooting an unarmed Noble even though he never made a threat toward the officers and they never saw him with a gun or heard him refer to a gun, nor asked him if he had a gun.
The lawsuit also accuses the Police Department of having a longstanding history of adhering to an “unconstitutional custom, practice and policy” of inadequately training, supervising and disciplining officers involved in shootings. This led to “reckless and callous disregard for the well-being of Dylan Noble and his constitutional rights,” the lawsuit says.
In addition, the lawsuit accuses the officers of plotting to shoot Noble “for defying their authority.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages for Darren Noble, who is Dylan Noble’s father. Dylan Noble’s mother, Veronica Nelson, filed a similar lawsuit against the city and the Police Department last month.
The lawsuit accuses the officers of plotting to shoot Noble “for defying their authority.”
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said Friday that “due to the pending litigation, we will reserve comment at this time.” City spokesman Mark Standriff said the “city’s policy is not to discuss any pending or ongoing legal matters.”
The identities of the officers involved in the shooting have been declared in the lawsuits. Dyer has not publicly named them.
The shooting took place June 25 in the parking lot of a Chevron station at Shields and Armstrong avenues in southeast Fresno. After the shooting, no gun was found on Noble or in his pickup.
In previous interviews, Dyer has said Noble was shot after he failed to obey officers’ commands to show his hands and made a furtive move toward his waistband.
The Fresno County Sheriff's Office has said that a toxicology analysis showed that Noble had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, above the state’s legal driving limit of 0.08. The analysis also found trace amounts of the chemical benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine.
Paboojian said Friday the officer’s actions should be questioned because they escalated the situation from the start when Camacho pulled out his handgun while following Noble. Once Noble pulled over and got out his truck, Camacho, Chavez and another officer pointed their weapons at Noble, even though he had committed, at most, a misdemeanor violation.
“Police are supposed to be trained to deal with intoxicated drivers, not shoot them,” Paboojian said.
History of suits
Paboojian, a former Fresno County prosecutor, has successfully sued the city and Dyer before.
In September 2014, the city paid $1.15 million to the family of 7-year-old Donovan Maldonado, who was killed by a drunken driver while in a crosswalk near Woodward Park. Pabojian argued that the crosswalk on Shepherd Avenue was dangerous. Loren LeBeau, who went to prison for killing Donovan, paid $100,000 from his car insurance.
In June 2012, the city paid deputy police chiefs Robert Nevarez and Sharon Shaffer and Paboojian $300,000 to settle a hostile work environment lawsuit brought against Dyer. Their lawsuit accused Dyer of making demeaning remarks about blacks, Asians and women, and the suit contended the police chief mocked Mayor Ashley Swearengin and her female administrators, saying City Hall is run like a “sorority.” Nevarez still works for the Fresno Police Department. Shaffer is retired.
The shooting of Noble has sparked protests and demonstrations. In July, Dyer released police body camera videos of the shooting to quell concerns.
Dyer contends police were responding to a report of a man with a rifle walking in the area when officers saw Noble’s pickup squeal its tires and take off east on Shields Avenue near Sunnyside Avenue.
Camacho and Chavez followed the truck to the gas station, according to police body camera video. There, they repeatedly ordered Noble to show his hands and get on the ground. When he approached them with one hand hidden behind his back, Camacho fired two shots from his handgun, and Noble then dropped to the ground.
While sprawled on the ground, Noble reached again toward his waistband, Dyer said, as officers continued ordering him to show his hands. When he didn’t, Camacho fired a third round at Noble. Chavez fired the final round with his shotgun.
The Fresno Police Department, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI are conducting separate investigations.
The lawsuit says Noble was 10 to 15 feet from the officers when he was shot. He was pronounced dead about three hours later at Community Regional Medical Center.
At no time has Dyer or any city official acknowledged any wrongdoing by any of the officers, the lawsuit says. In fact, Dyer has defended “the actions of the officers and justified their shooting of Dylan Noble to both the local and national media, just as he and the Fresno Police Department have done in the past,” the lawsuit says.
Paboojian said Friday that Noble never should have been shot because the officers had less-lethal options: a police dog was at the scene and the officers could have used their stun guns on Noble.
“In the court of law, every gunshot has to be justified,” Paboojian said. “No way can anyone justify shooting Dylan four times, especially the last two.”