No government agency in the United States tracks killings by law enforcement officials. Starting with deaths reported on May 1, 2013, however, the private website killedbypolice.net has documented over 3,700 dead, an average of more than three a day, or roughly one every eight hours.
This carnage does not include non-lethal shootings or other extreme uses of force such as noxious gas, tasers and hogtying. It also does not include victims left in a permanent vegetative state or with catastrophic injuries such as paralysis. The total, which includes data for only three years and two months, is more than double the number of US military deaths in hostile action in Afghanistan over the last 15 years.
Dylan Noble, an unarmed 19-year-old white youth, was added to the list on June 25, 2016. Two police officers from Fresno, an impoverished city of about one-half million located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, shot him during a mid-afternoon traffic stop.
Fresno Chief of Police Jerry Dyer immediately defended the officers, claiming that their body camera video, which he said could conveniently not be released pending an investigation, exonerates the officers.
Fresno Police Department Lieutenant Burke Farrah told the press that while officers were responding to a report of a man on foot with a gun, they pulled Dylan over for speeding. “During the traffic stop, the driver refused to show his hands to the officers, making a conscious effort to conceal one hand behind his back, then in his waistband, as he exited the truck, and walked away from officers,” according to Farrah.
Supposedly summarizing the body camera recordings, Farrah said that the officers repeatedly ordered Dylan to show his hands and to get on the ground. Farrah said that Dylan, with a hand still behind his back, turned toward the officers, said “he hated his effing life,” and advanced toward the officers, who, in fear for their lives, fired four times.
As more facts came out, the Fresno Police Department acknowledged that Dylan was not armed and was not the man reported to have had a gun that the officers were dispatched to find.
Demonstrations took place locally, focused on the demand for the release of the body camera recordings.
The controversy over the shooting and the Fresno Police Department’s stonewalling may well have remained confined to the Central Valley except that a short cell phone video, shot from around the corner of a building and about a hundred feet away, exposes the official police story.
The video begins after the first two shots had been fired from an officer’s pistol. Dylan can be seen lying on his back on the passenger side of his truck. He is barely moving and, at one point, can be heard telling the officers he has been shot. The officers shout confusing commands at the teenager, who appears too seriously wounded to understand or to comply. One officer fires a pistol round for no apparent reason, and then 14 seconds later a different officer fires a shotgun.
Dylan died in surgery that night. There is no indication yet whether he would have survived had the officers not shot him twice as he lay helpless on the ground.
The shooting was the sixth for the Fresno Police Department just this year. There were three others last year.