More than two years after Fresno police shot and killed unarmed 19-year-old Dylan Noble during a traffic stop, a lawsuit brought against the city by Noble’s parents will reach its first milestone next week as the two sides meet to discuss a possible settlement.
According to federal court records, attorneys for Veronica Nelson, Noble’s mother, and Darren Noble, his father, will meet with the city of Fresno’s attorneys for a settlement conference at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The case has massive implications for the city of Fresno and its police department, as Noble’s parents are seeking to change the department’s policies concerning use of force, deadly force, K-9 units and more. Financial settlements in similar cases have been trending up, and the high-profile Noble case could cost the city millions of dollars.
The officers involved in Noble’s death were not charged with a crime, but they did receive undisclosed punishments within the department. The officers have said they believed Noble could have been armed and reached for his waistband.
On May 15, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stanley Boone ordered that Wednesday’s mediation and all documents related to it be confidential. The parties are to submit their preferred terms – including how much money and what police policy changes the parents are seeking – directly to the judge without filing any records with the court.
Stuart Chandler, Nelson’s attorney, said the judge’s order kept him from discussing anything about the meeting, including the chances of it actually leading to settlement. These meetings are required by the court in civil cases such as his, Chandler said, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the sides won’t eventually go to trial on the previously set date of June 25, 2019.
“Veronica Nelson has made it clear from the beginning that she wants to see some changes in police department policy and practices to help minimize the chance of some other mother’s child being wrongfully shot and killed by Fresno police,” Chandler said.
Chandler said the police department has failed to learn from past shootings, and his client hopes to break the cycle.
When the city settled the case of Jaime Reyes Jr. for $2.2 million in 2016, Chandler said part of that agreement changed the standard of when an officer could open fire from an imminent threat to an immediate threat. He took this to mean a more severe threat to the officer’s life.
And yet, Chandler said, officers shot 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding as he was running away from officers just five months later.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer deemed the Murrietta-Golding shooting within policy, as he was a murder suspect believed to have been armed with a handgun. A lawsuit in that case was filed in March and is moving through federal court.
Warren Paboojian, Darren Noble’s attorney, said his client has a similar objective in terms of changing police practice.
“Either the policies are not getting followed on occasion, or there’s some other lapse,” Paboojian said. “But too many of these (police shootings) happen in Fresno.”
Chief Assistant City Attorney Francine Kanne offered this statement:
“Mediation is a voluntary dispute resolution process that is private, and settlement negotiations are confidential. If a settlement is reached, the terms and the amount will become a matter of public record, but not during the mediation process.”
Progress has been slow for the lawsuit, which was first filed in Fresno County in August 2016 then amended for federal court in November 2016.
The exchange of evidence, normally routine in most court cases, has been particularly prickly. Noble’s death was national news, and his parents have contended that sensitive documents surrounding the various investigations that followed should be made public due to high community interest in the case.
The city sought to keep all of its evidence confidential, saying it could put officers, witnesses and others at risk.
In November, federal Magistrate Judge Barbara McAuliffe ultimately ruled the two sides should meet in the middle. Some of the city’s documents, videos and reports should be free of a protective order requiring secrecy, while others should not.
But the two sides were back in court in March, fighting over a report written by the city’s Office of Independent Review.
Noble’s parents had received a heavily redacted version of the report and argued for the original.
The city said it was concerned the opposing attorneys would release delicate information contained in the report to the public, but McAuliffe ultimately ordered the release of a less-redacted version of the report.
Chandler and Paboojian said they have both had enough time to review this report, which is sure to factor heavily into the settlement talks and eventual trial, should that be necessary.