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‘Trigger-happy’ or well trained? Fresno police release video of Dylan Noble shooting

🕐 10 min read

Police in Fresno, Calif., on Wednesday released body-camera footage showing officers fatally shooting an unarmed teenager, Dylan Noble.

The footage from June 25 shows officers pulling over Noble at a gas station in the central California city after police received a report of a man carrying a rifle.

Noble was unarmed, but as the 19-year-old exited from his pickup truck, he repeatedly ignored officers’ commands.

The video shows him appear to hide his hands behind his back and walk toward officers, disobeying commands to show his hands, get on the ground and stop advancing.

“I (expletive) hate my life,” Noble shouts a split-second before an officer shoots him twice.

The video then shows the teenager continue to reach toward his waist before he is shot twice more, including one shotgun blast from a second officer.

The video does not appear to show Noble pulling his hand out “very quickly” before the shooting, however, as Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters last month.

The release of the footage comes at a tense time for law enforcement in the United States. The fatal police shootings of two black men – Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., – last week prompted nationwide protests over fatal use of force by police. During a July 7 protest march in Dallas, a lone gunman angry over the two shootings opened fire on police, killing five officers and wounding nine others.

Dyer said Wednesday that he had planned to release the footage on Friday but delayed because of the Dallas shooting.

The fatal shooting of Noble, who was white, did not initially generate national outrage. That, in turn, prompted its own anger and demonstrations.

A vigil for Noble the day after his death featured Confederate flags and a “White Lives Matter” sign.

“I guarantee if an African American guy got shot, it would’ve blown up,” Noble’s friend, David Merkord, told The Guardian. “There definitely would’ve been a bigger crowd.”

Some Internet commenters claimed the relative lack of media attention was due to Noble’s race.

“Fresno cops shoot, kill 19-year-old,” wrote one Twitter user. “You didn’t hear about it, well because he was white.”

The release of the body camera footage, however, is now steering that anger away from race and towards the broader issue of police officers’ use of deadly force.

After being shown the footage during a private July 8 screening, Noble’s father demanded the two officers face murder charges.

“They just wanted to shoot him,” Darren Noble told the Guardian. “They’re just trigger-happy.”

On Monday, Noble’s mother filed a legal claim against the city saying she had suffered “significant emotional and mental distress as a result of the senseless and brutal shooting death of her son,” the Fresno Bee reported.

“The officers never had an objectively reasonable basis to shoot Dylan Noble,” the complaint says. “At no time did they use or attempt to use their K-9. At no time did they use or attempt to use a TASER.”

Before last month’s shooting, the Fresno Police Department was, in some ways, at the forefront of the effort to reform policing in America. The department used powerful — and, to some critics, controversial — software to scour data on suspects and predict a person’s threat level. City officials, meanwhile, credited a community-policing approach, emphasizing partnerships and problem-solving instead of mass arrests, for a drop in gang violence and an absence of angry protests.

Now, not so much.

The incident began around 3:20 p.m. on June 25, when Fresno police responded to a call from a woman who reported a man in a camouflage jacket walking around near the city’s airport while carrying a rifle.

Two officers in the area spotted Noble “peeling out” in his black pickup truck and pulled him over at a Chevron gas station.

A body camera on the officer behind the wheel captures him and his partner drawing their guns as they step from their squad car.

“Turn off the truck,” the officer says. “Get your hands out the window. Both hands out the window.”

Noble’s truck door appears to swing open.

“No, I didn’t tell you to get out,” the officer behind the camera continues. “Hey, let me see both your hands. Let me see both your hands.”

Noble appears to hold his left hand up but not his right.

“Let me see your hands. Get both your hands out. Both your hands,” the officer says, calling for backup. “Let me see your hands. Let me see your hands. Let me see your hands.”

“Both hands. Both hands,” says the partner as a third officer arrives and racks his shotgun. (His body camera footage was also released Wednesday.)

“Get your hands out where we can see ’em,” shouts the first cop’s partner.

“Both your hands,” says the first cop.

“Other hand. Right hand up. Right hand up,” says his partner.

“I think we have a dog with us,” says the officer with the shotgun.

“Subject keeps reaching for his waistband,” the first officer says into his radio.

“He’s getting out of the car,” shouts the officer with the shotgun.

Multiple officers frantically shout for Noble to get on the ground.

“We don’t have a dog?” the officer with the shotgun asks.

“Let me see your hands,” the first officer tells Noble as the teenager holds his right hand behind his back and walks towards them. “Stop, stop reaching. Stop.”

“Get down on the ground. Get down on the ground now. Get your (expletive) ass on the ground,” says the officer with the shotgun. “Fresno Police Department. Drop whatever you have in your hand.”

“Drop,” says the first officer.

“If you come forward you’re going to get shot, man,” says the officer with the shotgun.

“Stop,” the first officer says.

“Get on the ground now,” says the officer with the shotgun.

“I (expletive) hate my life,” Noble shouts.

Two shots, apparently fired by the first officer, ring out and Noble falls to the pavement on his stomach. An object – later determined to be a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of clear plastic, according to the Bee – falls to the ground.

“Shots fired, subject down,” the officer with the shotgun says into his radio.

“Get your hands up” the first officer says.

Noble then rolls onto his back.

“Let me see your hands,” the officer with the shotgun says.

Noble then appears to reach with his right hand towards his waistband.

“Keep your hands up,” the officer with the shotgun shouts. “I cannot see his hands.”

A third shot rings out, apparently fired by the first officer.

“Dude, keep your hands out,” the officer with the shotgun says.

“Don’t reach with your hands,” says the first officer.

“Quit reaching for what you’ve got,” the officer with the shotgun says. “Keep your hands out. Dude, if you reach one more time, you will get shot again. Stop.”

Noble’s right hand moves again towards his waistband.

“Dude,” the officer with the shotgun says, firing once at Noble.

“Dude, do not reach again, please,” the officer with the shotgun says.

Noble was taken to a local hospital but died during surgery, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Two days later, Chief Dyer told reporters that the shooting was a “tragedy” but that body camera footage of the incident showed why officers “felt, at least in their minds,” the need to open fire. He said the footage showed Noble pulling his hand out “very quickly” before he was shot, adding that, like Noble’s parents, he was baffled by the incident.

“We’re talking about a 19-year-old young man who doesn’t have any criminal history, and we’re trying to figure out why this occurred,” he said, according to the Bee.

On Wednesday, at a press conference in which he released the footage, Dyer said an investigation would try to determine if all four shots were justified and if deadly force could have been avoided.

“Were the last two rounds fired by the officers necessary? Based on a reasonable fear, did the officers have to use deadly force? I do not have the answer to that today,” Dyer said, according to the Guardian. “That video was extremely disturbing to watch.”

Dyer added that he hoped the video, which Noble’s family had called on him to release, would not unleash more violence.

“Tensions are high,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “In some cases we are one spark away from a forest fire. And I pray this video doesn’t serve as that spark.”

The object in Noble’s hand is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Bee reported. According to the Times, it contained malleable clay.

Unlike the shootings of Sterling and Castile, which became national headlines within hours and were loudly denounced by the Black Lives Matter movement, it was almost two weeks before Noble’s killing began to gain nationwide attention. (A column by New York Daily News writer Shaun King three days after the shooting was a rare exception.)

As in the case of Sterling and Castile, it was bystander video of the shooting that sparked the media’s attention.

On July 6, as the nation watched Castile bleed to death on Facebook Live, video emerged of Noble’s shooting 11 days after it had occurred.

The video, shot from a distance on a bystander’s cellphone, shows the third and fourth shots as Noble lay on the ground.

“It shows how my son was murdered,” Darren Noble told the Guardian on July 7. “You can see he was still alive. He was trying to comply and they’re still yelling at him. You can see his hands in the video. They shot him more times just to kill him.”

That night, Micah Johnson opened fire on police in Dallas, shifting the public conversation – at least temporarily – towards police safety.

Whether the release Wednesday of the Fresno police footage pushes the conversation back towards police-involved shootings remains to be seen.

Also unclear is whether Noble will be remembered for the “White Lives Matter” sign and Confederate flags at his vigil or if he instead will become a symbol of how police shootings affect all communities.

When one Black Lives Matter supporter tweeted Friday that the movement “stands with Dylan Noble,” she was attacked from all sides.

“It was suicide by cop,” wrote one commenter who criticized the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Why do you believe the movement stands with him?” asked a Black Lives Matter sympathizer. “It was believed he was flying his confederate flag when shot.”

His friends and family say Noble should be remembered simply as a fun-loving country boy who deserved more than to die in a gas station parking lot.

“They executed him,” Darren Noble told yourcentralvalley.com Wednesday. “There was no reason for them to even have guns drawn down on him for a traffic stop.”

Warren Paboojian, the father’s attorney, admitted Dylan didn’t follow officers’ commands but said police could have used non-lethal means of subduing the teenager, including a K-9 reportedly at the scene.

“They were telling a young boy, who may have been under the influence of some alcohol, to do a bunch of commands for a routine traffic stop,” he said.

Paboojian added that the family did have one thing in common with the cops who killed Dylan Noble.

“We don’t want any more violence or any threats to police officers or anyone else,” he said.

Video: Police in Fresno, Calif., released body camera videos from two police officers showing the officers fatally shooting Dylan Noble, an unarmed white teenager (Editor’s note: This video contains graphic content). (Fresno Police Department)


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