Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said Friday that the shooting of unarmed 19-year-old Dylan Noble largely followed department policy, but that proper tactics were not used in the 14 seconds before the fourth and final shot was fired.
Dyer outlined the finding in a news conference at Police Department headquarters. Afterward, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office said its final report is “close,” and an attorney for Noble’s mother called the police chief’s conclusions “a tragedy.”
Dyer said three shots fired by Officer Raymond Camacho at Noble during the traffic stop in June were discharged because Noble posed an immediate threat to officer safety. The officers were responding to a call about an armed suspect, Dyer added, and reasonably believed that Noble may have had a handgun.
But Dyer said that Officer Robert Chavez could have used a different approach after Camacho’s last shot before Chavez fired a shotgun blast into Noble.
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“I recognize that time and distance can become distorted during a stressful incident,” Dyer said. “However, it is my belief that after reviewing all of the evidence in this case, that 14 seconds provided sufficient time to the officer to consider and employ other potential alternatives which may have minimized the need for the fourth and final round to be fired.”
The chief later clarified that all four shots were ruled justified under Fresno police policies and law enforcement tenets found across the country.
On Aug. 2, the Fresno County Coroner’s Office reported that Noble died of massive internal injuries from three bullets and nine buckshot pellets from a single shotgun shell. The report did not specify which shot, if any, was determined to be the fatal one.
In his news conference, Dyer said it “appears that any of those rounds could have been fatal based on where those rounds struck.”
The chief said video of the incident shows officers repeatedly pleaded with Noble to show his hands, but that he refused. Instead, he made motions that gave them reason to think he was about to pull a gun from his waistband.
For the first time, Dyer referred to the officers involved in the Noble case by name. Their identities had been made public in the lawsuit filed against the city on behalf of Noble’s mother.
Disciplinary action taken?
Dyer said officers had no ill will or intent when they pulled Noble over. However, Dyer implied that some additional disciplinary action was taken against one or both officers. He said that state law – he cited Penal Code 832.7 – prohibits him from sharing “the specific details of corrective action taken against these officers.”
The chief said both Camacho and Chavez remain with the department and will get the additional training that all officers will likely receive, which will include:
▪ approaching wounded suspects and alternatives to lethal force as the threat to officers and others diminishes;
▪ reviewing the use of police dogs on potentially armed suspects;
▪ equipping long guns with slings so officers can more easily transition to less lethal alternatives.
“Both of these officers have been impacted as well as their families as a result of this incident,” Dyer said. “The threats made on social media against the officers and their families. These officers hurt. They are human beings.”
Asked what he would say to the family of Noble, Dyer noted that Noble failed to comply with more than 35 commands by officers.
“I’m sorry that Dylan Noble lost his life, but I think we all recognize that there are some contributing factors, and these officers were put in a position where they felt the need to use deadly force because they felt that their lives were threatened and they felt other citizens’ lives were threatened. It’s unfortunate, and it’s a tragedy, but the officers did not initiate this incident.”
Fresno attorney Roger Wilson of Raines Lucia Stern, PC, a law firm specializing in representing law enforcement in criminal, civil and employment matters, represented Chavez during the internal affairs investigation. Wilson said he was satisfied with the Fresno police investigation, calling it “thorough, well-reasoned and one of the best I’ve seen.” Wilson has practiced in California for 19 years.
Wilson praised the department for considering not only its own policies but also those of law enforcement agencies across the state, as well as federal case law, before determining that all four shots were within policy.
However, Wilson took issue with the emphasis Dyer placed on the 14-second gap between Camacho’s final shot and his client’s only shot.
“This is not the time Officer Chavez had to think about this,” Wilson said. Referring to the officer’s confrontation with Noble, the lawyer said Chavez “reacted to what he saw – one hand raising up his shirt, and another reaching in – in a split second.”
Wilson added that Chavez can be heard during the video pleading with Noble to obey commands, which Noble repeatedly refused to do.
An evaluation by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office into whether the two officers will face criminal charges related to the shooting is ongoing. Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said his office is “getting close” to making its determination.
Noble was shot June 25 after police say he did not follow their orders to show his hands after a traffic stop. The shooting took place 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 truck.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has said a toxicology analysis showed 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.
Noble lawyer critical of conclusions
Two lawsuits have been filed by Noble’s parents accusing the officers of a wrongful death of their son.
Stuart Chandler represents Noble’s mother in one of those lawsuits, and he criticized Dyer’s statements on Friday.
“The city is still failing to step up and accept responsibility,” Chandler said. “To say (Noble’s) killing is consistent with Fresno police practices is a tragedy.”
Chandler said the officers’ supposed belief that Noble was armed was completely false. Chandler shared his reasoning for that belief: At the beginning of the body camera video, police are concerned about a possible gun in his back waistband. The officers can see his front waistband as he is walking toward them. After he was shot, Noble fell on his stomach, then turned onto his back. Now, police are concerned about a possible gun in his front waistband. Did he somehow move this supposed gun from his back waistband to his front without the video catching it?
In an email statement, Chandler added: “Chief Dyer said the officers believed that Dylan Noble, while on the ground after being shot, was reaching for a weapon in his front waistband when he is clearly reaching for the wound that has been wrongly inflicted on him.”
Chandler said he and attorneys for the city will next appear in federal court in February. There have been no talks of settling, he added.
“In light of what the chief said today, it’s pedal to the metal,” Chandler said.