The suspect accused of killing a police officer this week in a small Fresno County community fired the deadly shots from a “ghost gun,” untraceable firearms that have become increasingly available and concerning, officials said Friday.
Law enforcement officials found the gun — which they say was used to fatally shoot on-duty Selma Police Officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr. — discarded not far from where the suspect, Nathaniel Dixon, was arrested Tuesday, Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni said Friday. The sheriff said ghost guns are often illegally created by 3D printers or ordered online, and “cannot be traced or tracked.” The weapon was a .223-caliber assault rifle and had no serial number, Zanoni said.
“This individual was a convicted felon, he didn’t have any right to have that gun,” Zanoni said.
Dixon appeared in court Friday for the first time since the killing, charged with first-degree murder, with added enhancements for the killing of a police officer, and felon in possession of a firearm, according to Fresno County Dist. Atty. Lisa A. Smittcamp. The 23-year-old is being held in the Fresno County Jail without bail.
Though Zanoni highlighted the ghost gun allegedly used by Dixon at a news conference Friday, neither he nor other Fresno area law enforcement leaders called for changes to firearm laws — instead they continued to hammer attention on prison reform laws that they blame allowed Dixon to get out of prison early.
“This experiment of our criminal justice reform in California isn’t working,” Zanoni said. “In order to prevent something like this happening again, … you have to make it somewhat political to get the message out.”
Even as the small Fresno County city was still reeling from losing its first on-duty officer — fatally shot Tuesday in the majority-Latino city with fewer than 25,000 residents — local law enforcement officials did not shy away from politicizing Carrasco’s death.
“This is political,” said Smittcamp, a Republican in the historically conservative county that went red in the latest governor race. “He’s not going to die in vain if any of us have anything to do about it.”
Selma Police Chief Rudy Alcaraz said Carrasco, an expectant father, was “essentially executed.”
At about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, Carrasco was responding to concerns about a “suspicious man” in a neighborhood just west of Highway 99 in Selma, according to the Fresno Sheriff’s Office, which took over the investigation into the shooting. Carrasco attempted to approach the man, but the man — later identified as Dixon — fired several shots at Carrasco, killing him.
Dixon’s attorney, Scott Baly, did not respond Friday to a request for comment from The Times.
Zanoni, Smittcamp and Alcaraz argued Friday that Dixon should have still been incarcerated at the time of the shooting, saying he was let off too easy by California’s corrections system after being sentenced to five years in prison last summer.
“This is a wake-up call for everybody,” Alcaraz said. “I hope that some good can come of this.”
Dixon was charged with multiple felonies after two separate arrests in 2020, but took a plea deal last spring to receive the five-year sentence. But he was released about five months later on community supervision, court records show. However, Dixon also received credit for the almost 20 months he spent at the Fresno County Jail during court proceedings, serving a total of a little over two years behind bars, according to Tony Botti, a spokesperson for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
The Fresno law enforcement leaders condemned two laws that have drawn much criticism over the years: Assembly Bill 109, a 2011 law intended to reduce the state prison population by requiring many people convicted of felonies to serve their sentences in county jails, and Proposition 57, a 2016 ballot initiative that increased parole and good behavior opportunities for people convicted of nonviolent felonies. The law enforcement officials called the laws empowering to criminals.
Though both measures were developed under former Gov. Jerry Brown, Smittcamp took aim at Gov. Gavin Newsom this week, saying he was deflecting responsibility for “his failed policies” and shortcomings at the Department of Corrections, which his office oversees.
Newsom shot back at Smittcamp earlier this week, saying she should “blame herself,” in this case because she oversaw the prosecution of Dixon.
Although Dixon was released from prison early, he was convicted of only two felonies — through a deal with prosecutors — despite facing nine felony charges and one misdemeanor after his two 2020 arrests. A spokesperson for the governor said that had Smittcamp prosecuted the case “to the full extent of the law,” Dixon would have faced a harsher sentence.
Newsom’s office did not respond to further questions about the case Friday.
“Mr. Dixon should have been in custody,” Smittcamp said Friday. “The killing of Officer Carrasco is an example, … it’s the worst example.”
Alcaraz backed Smittcamp’s political crusade against prison reforms, but he also asked for the local community to support Carrasco’s family during this difficult time and honor the fallen officer for the man he was.
“Gonzalo Carrasco was a great human being with a great smile,” Alcaraz said. “He was a young man who did everything right.”
A Reedley native, Carrasco had long worked toward becoming a police officer, reaching that dream in 2021, Alcaraz said. He had been in the Explorer program at the Reedley Police Department as a young adult, learning about the profession, and later spent two years as a reserve officer — or volunteer — at the Selma Police Department, Alacaraz said. While waiting for a full-time officer job to open at the Selma agency, Carrasco returned to farm work to support his family.