FRESNO, Calif. (CN) — The mother of an unarmed teenager who was shot to death by Fresno police officers, sparking “white lives matter” protests, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city on Thursday.
Veronica Nelson claims in Superior Court that Officers Raymond Camacho and Robert Chavez had no reason to use deadly force when they shot her 19-year-old son Dylan Noble four times during a traffic stop on June 25.
A vigil in Fresno the day after the shooting escalated to a protest in which some people held “White Lives Matter” signs and brandished Confederate flags, garnering national media attention.
Some decried the message, an appropriation of Black Lives Matter, as racist and offensive, but Noble’s friends told news outlets they were merely saying that Noble’s life mattered.
The controversy brought more attention to Noble’s death.
Police released an officer’s body cam video of the killing. In it, one officer demands that Noble show him his right hand, but as Noble advances and then retreats from the other officer, he repeatedly puts his right hand behind his back. He refuses the officers’ repeated demands to lie down, “or you’re going to get shot, man.” As Noble approaches the officer with the body cam, still with his right hand behind his back, that officer shoots him twice. As Noble lies on the ground, the officers continue ordering him to show them his hands, then shoot him two more times.
A bystander’s cellphone video of the incident — depicting only the last two rounds fired by the officers as Noble lay wounded — sparked more outrage across the nation.
The police video includes the final two shots.
Nelson’s attorney, Stuart Chandler, said in an interview that Noble would be alive today had the officers had used a Taser, beanbag gun or police dog to apprehend him.
The officers’ decision to shoot Noble four times was “outrageous,” Chandler said. “It just shocks the conscience.”
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer defended his officers, saying they believed Noble had a gun. He released the body cam video to show the whole picture, Dyer said at the time.
The incident began when Camacho and Chavez, responding to reports of a man walking in the area with a rifle, spotted Noble’s speeding pickup. After initially failing to pull over for the officers, Noble pulled into a Chevron gas station, as can be seen in the video.
The rest of the video shows this:
One of the officers brandishes his gun on the steering wheel before pulling into the gas station and getting out of the car.
The officers yell at Noble to turn off the truck and repeatedly tell him to put both his hands out the window. Noble leaves the truck and retreats briefly, refusing to comply with a series of demands that he put his hands up and drop to the ground.
Noble walks toward the officers and reaches behind his back with his right hand.
The officers yell at Noble to drop whatever he has in his hand and warn him that if he continues to move forward he will get shot.
Noble shouts, “I fucking hate my life” as he continues to walk toward the officers. The officer with the body cam shoots him twice, and he drops to the ground.
An officer again orders Noble, who has rolled onto his back on the ground, to hold his hands up, but he appears to put his hand under his shirt. The officer fires a third round.
The shotgun-wielding officer—not the one with the body cam — warns Noble that if he does not show both of his hands, he will be shot again. When Noble’s hand moves, the officer fires his shotgun.
About 12 seconds passed between the third and fourth shot. Noble did not have a gun. The object in his right hand was a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of clear plastic with a gray substance inside, which was sent to the Department of Justice to be analyzed.
The Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office did not release the full autopsy, but a sheriff’s spokesman said toxicology reports showed Noble had a blood alcohol content of 0.12 — 1.5 times the DUI limit — and a minuscule amount of the chemical benzoylecgonine, a compound associated with cocaine.
After releasing the video, Dyer said at a news conference that he anticipated it would “answer many of the questions that are out there.”
“I also believe this video is going to raise questions in the minds of people, just as those questions exist in my mind as well: primarily, 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 an answer for that today,” he said.
Dyer said the officers did not have time to analyze the situation.
“I’ve had the luxury of watching this video 40 times, a luxury those officers did not have,” he said.
Dyer said an internal investigation would be completed by the end of August, but it continues.
Nelson said in her lawsuit that her son’s “tragic death” was the result of “police officers’ hasty and disproportionate response to a traffic stop.”
“From the time Dylan was shot and killed to the present, there has been no acknowledgement of wrongdoing by anyone on behalf of the city or the Fresno Police Department,” she said in the complaint. “Instead, the Fresno Police Department immediately went into PR mode and soon the chief of police began speaking to the public through the mainstream media.”
She said the Fresno Police Department has a decades-long history of discrediting and defaming citizens shot by its officers.
“The defendants conspired and cherry-picked parts of the story that supported their opinion. The defendants have been attempting to sway public opinion, to include prospective jurors in their favor,” Nelson said in the complaint.
She said her son’s death was not an isolated incident, but “the latest in a long string of deadly officer-related shootings by the Fresno Police Department.”
Her attorney Chandler said in the interview that the Fresno police have a culture that brings no consequences or repercussions when officers use deadly force.
“I find it just astonishing that we don’t have an outcry from the city, especially seeing the conclusion of the video: Dylan is on the ground several feet away from the officers, but they still brutally kill him. He’s already been shot twice. Anybody can see that he isn’t a threat. Are you telling me that nobody there had the ability to take three steps forward and get down and handcuff him? Nobody had a Taser or Mace?” Chandler said.
Chandler pointed out that a K-9 unit arrived and an officer gave the command, “Let the dog go,” which was recorded in the video, about 20 seconds before shooting Noble.
A dog was never released.
“In consultation with several law enforcement officers, including one who has decades working with K-9s, the unanimous consensus was to use the dog,” Chandler said. “They could have and should have released the dog to take down Dylan if they were in that much fear for their lives.”
Chandler said the police chief misled the public when he told reporters that it was against department policy to use a police dog to apprehend an armed subject.
“Their written policy specifically says that a K-9 must be used if the safety of officers or the public is in jeopardy,” the attorney said.
He rejected the claim that this could have been a “suicide-by-cop.”
“There’s no question that there was nothing going on in his life that would make him want to be suicidal. But whether he wanted to die or not has no bearing on the officers’ responsibility,” he said. “The dialogue has to be all about whether they had to shoot him, and they didn’t.”
Nelson seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, conspiracy, constitutional violations, failure to train and supervise, negligence and other charges.
The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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