Fresno police release body-camera footage of fatal shooting of unarmed 19-year-old – Los Angeles Times

The chief of the Fresno Police Department took the rare step Wednesday of publicly releasing the body-camera video footage of officers fatally shooting an unarmed 19-year-old man last month — a shooting that has generated fierce protests amid a roiling national debate over police brutality.

Chief Jerry Dyer said at a news conference that he decided to release the graphic videos of officers firing four gunshots into Dylan Noble, a white man, because of the intense public interest in the shooting.

His decision is expected to heighten the debate about whether video from body-worn cameras on officers should be routinely made public, something that law enforcement agencies and police unions have strongly opposed.

Dyer acknowledged that the footage is “extremely disturbing” to watch, but he said he hoped it would clarify what led officers to stop Noble on June 25 and eventually open fire.

“I anticipate that some of this video will answer many of the questions out there in this community,” Dyer said. “However, I believe this video is also going to raise questions in the minds of people, just as those questions exist in my mind as well.”

The videos show officers spotting Noble’s black pickup and pursuing the truck with police sirens blaring. Dyer said officers had been responding to a report of a man armed with a rifle.

Noble led police to a Chevron gas station where he stopped his truck, with officers parked a few yards behind him. One officer is seen brandishing his gun on the steering wheel shortly before driving into the gas station — a decision the officer made because he believed the pickup driver was armed, Dyer said.

As soon as Noble’s truck is parked, 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 retreated from the officers.

Police called for backup, and officers gave about 30 commands for Noble to show his hands, lift his hands or lay on the ground, Dyer said.

Noble did not comply with officers’ orders and turned around to face them. He reached his right hand behind his back and appeared to carry an object in his right hand that officers believed could be a weapon, Dyer said.

Noble is heard saying that he hates his life.

One officer shoots him twice. Noble falls to the ground, rolls over and is seen moving his hand into his waistband and under his shirt. The officer fires a third round at Noble, and after about 12 seconds, another officer fires the fourth shot into the man.

The object in Noble’s hand was determined to be a 4-inch plastic container with malleable clay.

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Dyer declined to offer an opinion about whether the shooting and conduct of the officers aligned with department policy. He said he is waiting for the conclusion of an internal probe as well as an investigation by the Fresno County district attorney’s office.

The prosecutors’ probe is expected to conclude by late August. The FBI and the U.S. attorney general’s office have also agreed to investigate the shooting.

Still, Dyer acknowledged that the final two gunshots may generate questions and criticism among the public.

Outrage over the shooting was sparked by the release of a witness’ cellphone video, which showed only the final two shots while Noble lay on the ground.

Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County sheriff’s deputy who also serves as a lawyer on use-of-force cases, said the police chief was using the complete body-camera footage to reveal what happened to the public and end the perception of misconduct created by the abridged cellphone video.

“Chief Dyer decided here, ‘Why should I wait under this national climate to release this vital information?’ The public, he believes, can see what happened,” Obayashi said. “There is nothing to hide here.”

Law enforcement agencies have welcomed cameras affixed to officers and inside patrol cars. Yet many departments oppose making their videos public, citing the privacy of officers and victims.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has said he did not expect to disclose footage in the majority of cases. Last year, a federal judge released video of a police shooting in Gardena only after news organizations, including The Times, asked a judge to unseal it.

Peter Bibring, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, also applauded Dyer’s decision to show the public the video from the body-worn camera.

“This shows departments can release video footage less than three weeks after a fatal shooting as a way to lend transparency,” Bibring said.

“This in no way is a clear-cut exoneration of the officers. The videos raise questions about shooting.”

But, he added, it shows that departments keen on shielding the public from body-camera footage “can do better.”

Charles “Sid” Heal, a former commander with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a police shootings expert, said Noble had ample warnings from officers.

“Not only did he choose not to comply, he knowingly exacerbated the situation with behaviors that would arouse the fears of even casual observers,” Heal said. “The fact that [Noble] did not have a firearm is not sufficient to condemn the actions of the officer.”

The identities of the two officers were not released because they have been the subject of threats via social media, Dyer said. 

One officer is a 20-year veteran of the Fresno force and has no previous involvement with a police shooting. Another officer has 17 years of police experience and about 10 years with the Fresno Police Department, Dyer said. That officer was involved in a 2009 shooting of an armed suspect.

Times staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

For more news in California, follow @MattHjourno.

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