Fresno police release shooting video, hoping for calm but fearing backlash

The killing of Dylan Noble in California didn't initially spark a national response. With the release of graphic body camera video Wednesday, his family is pushing for accountability.

Fresno Police Department/AP
An image from a body camera video released Wednesday by the Fresno Police Department shows a police officer pointing a gun at Dylan Noble, back left, in Fresno, Calif. on June 25.

Near a gas station in Fresno, Calif., the 19-year-old man refuses orders to pull one hand from behind his back and stop walking toward police.

“You’re going to get shot man!” one officer shouts as Dylan Noble walks forward with one hand raised and the other behind his back. As Mr. Noble responds, saying he hates his life, one officer shoots him twice, with two more bullets coming after he had already fallen, a graphic body-camera video released by police on Wednesday shows.

Police discovered Noble was unarmed and carrying only a small plastic container with an unknown purpose in his hand, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a news conference. The officers, who had responded to a report of a man with a rifle when they pulled him over, had no way of knowing that when he refused to cooperate with police, he said.

The release of the video of the shooting on June 25, which was initially delayed as police investigated, comes at at a particularly thorny time. Bystander videos of police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and of a black man who killed five officers in Dallas, Texas have each sparked outrage and debates about how race and policing intersect.

In the case of Noble, who was white, the initial lack of outrage generated protests itself. One vigil the day after his death featured Confederate flags and a “White Lives Matter” sign, The Washington Post reports.

But the release of the footage has put the focus back on a broader debate about how police use deadly force, regardless of the suspect's race. Noble’s father, Darren Noble, who saw the video at a private screening on July 8, called the Fresno officers “trigger-happy.”

Fresno police, however, hope the video can also bring clarity to officers' decision to shoot. The body cam footage could show why police "felt, at least in their minds," that it was the right thing to do, Dyer told reporters, according to the Post. 

Noble’s mother has filed a legal claim against the city, saying the shooting was unjustified, and that she suffered “significant emotional and mental distress as a result of the senseless and brutal death of her son."

Attorneys for both of Noble’s parents questioned why the officers had not used other means, including a TASER or a K9 that was believed to be with the officers to subdue him before drawing their guns. 

Chief Dyer, who had earlier called the shooting a “tragedy,” acknowledged the video was gruesome, but said it was important for the public to be able to see it, the Associated Press reports. He said he hopes it would not spark further violence amid anti-police sentiment in Fresno and across the country.

“Tensions are high," Dyer said. "In some cases we are one spark away from a forest fire. And I pray this video doesn't serve as that spark.... This is not a time to become violent.”

But there were still many unanswered questions, he said at the news conference Wednesday.

“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.”

Earlier, he had declined to release the video as the police investigation began, telling the Fresno Bee, “The video, whether it’s shown this week or in four weeks, is not going to change.”

The debate around the significance of Noble’s death is also likely to continue, including among supporters of a growing movement to raise awareness of police violence.

One Black Lives Matter supporter tweeted Friday that the movement “stands with Dylan Noble,” but her comment drew a mixed reaction, with some surmising that his death was so-called suicide by cop, the Post reports.

But Noble’s family echoed other recent victims’ families in calling for both accountability and no further violence.

 “We have one thing in common with the police department right now,” Warren Paboojian, a lawyer for Noble’s father, told local station YourCentralValley. “We don't want any more violence or any threats to police officers or anyone else.”

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