The chief of the Fresno Police Department announced Friday that while his officers' use of deadly force was within policy in the fatal shooting of an unarmed teen this summer, "inappropriate tactics" were used before a fourth shot was fired.
Dylan Noble had already been shot three times by Officer Raymond Camacho on June 25 and was lying on the ground, when Officer Robert Chavez fired the fourth shot from a shotgun at the 19-year-old, Police Chief Jerry Dyer said in a news conference on Friday. The chief said Chavez had 14 seconds to consider using other tactics before he fired his weapon.
"I recognize that time and distance can become distorted during a stressful incident," Dyer said. "However, it is my belief, 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 a fourth and final round to be fired."
The chief said he has taken corrective actions against the officer, adding that he was prohibited by law from disclosing any details.
Still, Dyer asserted that Noble posed a threat to officers and the public who were in the area at the time. Even after Noble was shot three times, he still put his right hand under his shirt into his waistband, Dyer said.
He defended the officers' response to Noble, saying that overall their "use of deadly force was objectively reasonable" based on what they knew at the time. Officers, he said, are making split-second decisions "under tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstances."
Although officers are not required to use less lethal force, Dyer said he holds his officer to a higher standard.
"I have wrestled with this decision perhaps more than any decision I have wrestled with as a police chief," Dyer said. "I wrestled with it because I know these police officers have an extremely difficult job to do in a very dangerous environment and when you look around our country today and the number of officers being shot and ambushed and killed, it made my decision even more difficult."
Dyer said he doesn't want to lose the public's trust as well as his officers' support.
"That is a very, very difficult balance for a police chief and when I render a decision like I did today," he said, "I try to take everything into consideration and to be as fair and objective as I possibly can in doing the right thing for the right reason for this department and for this community and I believe that I have."
As a result of the deadly shooting, all Fresno police officers will undergo training on high-risk traffic stops, including how to safely approach a wounded suspect and on using alternative tactics. The department is also reviewing its procedure on deploying police dogs on possibly armed suspects.
All department-issued rifles and shotguns will be equipped with a sling, allowing officers to easily switch to a less lethal weapon, the chief said.
The announcement follows public outrage over the officers' use of force and two lawsuits filed by Noble's parents. The shooting gained national attention and sparked protests.
Attorney Stuart Chandler, who represents Noble's mother in one of the lawsuits, said he tried to attend the news conference at the police headquarters, but he was not allowed to sit down and watch.
So Chandler stood outside police headquarters with a photograph poster of Noble and listened to a news conference on his cellphone.
"If the killing is consistent with Fresno police policy," he said, "then Fresno police needs to change."
Chandler said the department still has not turned over all body camera footage of the shooting. He criticized Dyer for defending the officers' use of force and not taking a stronger position on the shooting.
"Why don't you just say what happened here was wrong?" Chandler asked.
He said Dyer's comments about Noble reaching for his waistband are wrong. Noble was reaching for his wound, the attorney said.
"Do these officers not have legs and feet that they can't walk up to Dylan and restrain him?" he said. "That is pathetic policy as far as I am concerned."
City attorneys have filed documents to move the suits to federal court.
The investigation into the shooting was sparked after officers encountered Noble's pickup truck while searching for an armed suspect. They signaled for Noble to stop, but the 19-year-old did not pull over. Police chased him to a Chevron gas station, where he stopped his truck.
Footage released in July from the officers' body cameras shows the confrontation between Noble and officers at the gas station.
An officer is heard yelling: "Turn off the truck. Get your hands out the window. Both hands out the window." Later, an officer screams: "Let me see both your hands. … Get both your hands out."
Noble exited the truck and approached, then moved away from officers, who called for backup. Officers gave 30 commands, urging Noble to show his hands, lift his hands or lie down on the ground, the chief said. The young man ignored the officers' orders and carried an object in his right hand. Noble yelled that he hated his life. Noble was shot twice and he fell to the ground.
Then Noble rolled onto his back and his right hand reached into his waistband, Dyer said. The sequence of events last about three seconds before Camacho fired a third round. Noble then moved his hand away from his body, the chief said.
Chavez fired the final shot at the same time Noble moved his right hand again, Dyer said.
Noble later died at a hospital. An autopsy and toxicology report later showed that Noble had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12 — 1.5 times the legal limit of 0.8 — and traces of cocaine.
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