Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp announced late Friday afternoon that the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Dylan Noble did not involve any criminal conduct by Fresno police Officers Raymond Camacho and Robert Chavez.
Noble was shot four times during a traffic stop in east-central Fresno on June 25. Two of the shots were fired as he lay already wounded.
Police contend Camacho and Chavez believed Noble was armed, but it was later determined that he had no weapon.
In a text message to The Bee, Smittcamp said: “This decision was made after several hundred hours of investigation and review by the highest level of staff at the District Attorney’s Office. It was based on the facts and the law. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the parents, family and friends of Dylan Noble. He was killed during this unfortunate incident with the Fresno Police Department, but he was not murdered according to the law.”
When has the DA ever prosecuted a police officer in a shooting case like this? Never.
Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian
Smittcamp also addressed the sticky issue of how it was justified to shoot Noble while he lay wounded.
“Until an individual complies with the lawful commands of a peace officer, they are still considered a threat,” she said in a text message.
Because Noble refused to show his hands “and his continued non-compliance with the officers’ clear and concise orders, the officers reasonably believed that he had a weapon in his waistband,” Smittcamp wrote. “Even after he was wounded on the ground, his actions were consistent with someone that was retrieving a weapon from concealment,” she wrote. “Because of these actions, he continued to pose a threat to the officers and public safety.”
Fresno attorneys Warren Paboojian and Stuart Chandler, who represent Dylan’s parents in a civil lawsuit against the Fresno Police Department, said they weren’t surprised by Smittcamp’s decision not to charge the officers.
“When has the DA ever prosecuted a police officer in a shooting case like this?” Paboojian said. “Never.”
Noble was shot in the parking lot of a Chevron gasoline station at Shields and Armstrong avenues, a homicide that was captured on video by a bystander’s cellphone and by the officers’ body cameras. In the police video, the officers repeatedly order Noble to show his hands. But after the shooting, no gun was found on Noble or in his pickup truck.
Smittcamp’s announcement comes after police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a Dec. 9 news conference that the shooting of Noble was justified, but noted that proper tactics were not used in the 14 seconds before the fourth and final shot was fired.
Dyer said Camacho fired three times because Noble posed an immediate threat to officer safety. The chief noted that the officers were responding to a call about an armed suspect, so they reasonably believed that Noble may have had a handgun.
But Dyer said that Chavez could have used a different approach when he fired the final shot 14 seconds after the third shot – a shotgun blast into Noble.
He was killed during this unfortunate incident with the Fresno Police Department, but he was not murdered according to the law.
District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp
In the end, Dyer was adamant that all four shots were ruled justified under Fresno police policies and law enforcement tenets found across the country.
The Fresno County Coroner’s Office has 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.
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.
But Paboojian and Chandler contend that they still have valid civil rights lawsuits against the police department.
“In the court of law, every shot has to be justified and the officers have to prove they were in imminent harm,” said Paboojian, a former Fresno County prosecutor who represents Darren Noble. “No reasonable person will conclude that the shooting was justified and the officers were in imminent harm.”
Paboojian said what police and prosecutors are sidestepping is that Camacho and Chavez pulled out their guns for a traffic stop. “They escalated the situation,” he said.
In her news release, Smittcamp alludes to police shootings being a civil matter: “It is the District Attorney’s Office’s role in these incidents to investigate and determine whether any violation of California criminal law was committed by the officer or officers. It is not the role of the District Attorney’s Office to determine civil negligence, civil rights violations, or to condone or condemn the policies of law enforcement agencies or the tactical decisions of law enforcement officers.”
I’m disappointed in the conclusion of the District Attorney’s Office, but we are determined to get justice for Dylan.
Fresno attorney Stuart Chandler
Just last month, the city of Fresno agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the parents of a Fresno man who was fatally shot by police four years ago. With the settlement comes major changes for the Fresno Police Department in the use of force, said Oakland attorneys Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin, who represented the parents of Jaime Reyes Jr., 28.
Reyes was shot while climbing a fence at Aynesworth Elementary School in southeast Fresno on the afternoon of June 6, 2012.
If the lawsuit had gone to trial, the evidence would have shown that Officer Juan Avila shot Reyes near the top of the fence, Haddad said. Once Reyes toppled to the ground, Avila shot him three more times in the back as he lay wounded, face down on the ground, he said. Reyes had a gun in his pocket.
The Fresno Police Department ruled the killing of Reyes was justified. In the settlement, the city did not admit to any wrongdoing by its officers.
Paboojian and Chandler said they have no doubt that Noble’s killing will end up in a civil courtroom.
“I’m disappointed in the conclusion of the District Attorney’s Office, but we are determined to get justice for Dylan,” said Chandler, who represents Veronica Nelson.
More importantly, Chandler said, the goal is to change the Fresno Police Department’s policies, practices and training when using excessive force “to prevent such tragedies from happening again in the future.”