Off-duty Chicago cop faces dismissal for shooting unarmed burglar
CHICAGO - On a sunny afternoon in the summer of 2019, Officer Noble Williams was watching television at his Hyde Park apartment when he heard knocks at his neighbor’s door.
Assuming it was a burglar, Williams said his "police instincts" pushed him to fasten his gun to his jogging pants and confront the thief, Bryant Nocentilli. A protracted struggle between the two men ended with Williams firing two shots at close range and grazing Nocentilli in the head.
Nocentilli — who was not armed — escaped but was later arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Williams now faces dismissal from the police department as the Chicago Police Board considers findings by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which concluded the shooting was "an egregious violation" of the department’s use of force policy.
An investigatory report issued by the agency offers conflicting accounts of what happened, with Nocentilli relating that he was shot "for no reason" and Williams claiming he fired under duress after pleading with Nocentilli to stop resisting.
The shooting wasn’t captured on video and there were apparently no witnesses.
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The report describes a hapless response to the burglary by Williams, noting he failed to call 911 before engaging Nocentilli and pulled out his weapon "because the weight of the gun was pulling down his jogging pants."
Williams told investigators he was hanging around his second-floor apartment on Aug. 21, 2019, when he heard a faint knock on the building’s back porch, followed by a stronger one. Williams said it sounded like a "burglary in progress," so he holstered his personal gun and started poking around.
After hearing noise coming from a third-floor unit, Williams said he found the back door open and saw Nocentill kneeling before a television, the report states. "Hey, stop. Police," Williams recalled saying before watching Nocentilli run toward the front door with a bag strapped to his back.
Williams said an ensuing fight started in the doorway and stretched down a flight of stairs, where Nocentilli fell "flat on his stomach," according to the report. That’s when Williams said he grabbed his gun because it was weighing down his pants and placed a foot on Nocentilli’s right arm.
As Nocentilli struggled beneath him, Williams said his cries for help likely went unanswered because his neighbors typically weren’t around during the day, the report states. Nocentilli then pulled himself up, began landing body blows and grabbed for Williams’ left arm as the officer held his gun in the other hand.
"No, there are better ways. … Stop resisting," Williams recalled saying.
Williams then fired twice at Nocentilli "with only inches between the two men," according to the report. Nocentilli ran down the stairs followed by Williams, who told investigators he was sure he had shot Nocentilli.
Nocentilli ran into a door on the way down but was able to get away as Williams called 911. Asked why he didn’t phone for help earlier, Williams responded, "If I go do all these things, I could miss the person."
When Nocentilli was arrested on Oct. 27, 2020, he said Williams had followed him into a hallway and put a knee into his neck and back while pointing a gun at him, according to the report. Nocentilli said he was able to push himself off the ground before Williams opened fire while standing above him on a stairwell.
Nocentilli, 37, was grazed in the head but didn’t seek medical treatment, the report states. He denied that he’d committed the burglary and said he was shot "for no reason," claiming he wasn’t a threat to Williams.
He pleaded guilty in January to felony counts of residential burglary and resisting a peace officer, Cook County court records show. He was sentenced to 10 years in state prison and one year of supervised release — punishment that runs concurrent to the sentences handed down in two other burglary cases.
Williams, who has previously been imprisoned for burglary and theft, remains held at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center in southern Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
A spokeswoman for the Cook County public defender’s office, which represented Nocentilli, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Police spokeswoman Margaret Huynh said a criminal investigation was never launched into Williams’ actions. And Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, said prosecutors were "not contacted to review the shooting involving the officer."
COPA released its investigatory report in October 2021, finding that Nocentilli "did not pose an imminent threat" to Williams, whose "decision to use deadly force was not objectively reasonable."
The report recommended that Williams be fired for shooting Nocentilli and loading his gun with more than one type of ammunition. A COPA spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a letter to COPA in February 2022, former Police Supt. David Brown argued the shooting was within department policy and insisted the officer should be exonerated. He said Williams should only be reprimanded for the ammunition violation.
Mareilé Cusack, a member of the Chicago Police Board assigned to break the gridlock, adopted COPA’s disciplinary recommendations in July 2022. Williams now faces quasi-judicial proceedings before the board to determine his fate on the police force, with the next status hearing slated for May 4.
Williams’ attorney, Tim Grace, said his client merely "tried to be the police" when he was put "in a position where be believed that he had to discharge his weapon because of how aggressive this guy was."
"To me, it’s a valid use of force," said Grace, who criticized COPA and said the agency has unsuccessfully been seeking to fire cops for violations that are "not at all something police officers should be terminated for."