The man knelt in the hotel hallway and pleaded with the officers: “Please do not shoot me.”
It was January 2016 and police in Mesa, Ariz., rushed to a La Quinta Inns & Suites in response to reports of a man pointing a firearm out of a window. When Philip Brailsford and five other officers arrived, they sprinted through the hotel until they found a man and a woman in the hallway.
“Hands up in the air!” an officer shouted, according to body-camera footage. The officers then commanded that the man and woman slowly crawl toward them. The man — a 26-year-old hotel guest named Daniel Shaver — appeared confused, dropping his hands, and then raising them.
“You do that again,” an officer barked, “we’re shooting you.”
Video then shows Shaver, who was crawling toward officers, reaching backward, seemingly toward the waistband of his shorts. A moment later, Brailsford shot Shaver five times with his AR-15 rifle. Shaver, unarmed, died on the scene.
On Thursday, a Maricopa County jury found Brailsford not guilty of second-degree murder — the latest officer to be set free after shooting an unarmed person. The eight-member jury also found Brailsford, 27, not guilty of a lesser charge of reckless manslaughter. Hours after the verdict, the judge overseeing the case released the video, which had been withheld from the public.
Mark Geragos, an attorney representing the Shaver family, on Friday called the verdict a “complete travesty of justice.”
“This criminal trial was akin to something you’d expect to read about in North Korea, not in a courtroom in the United States,” Geragos said. “That’s an execution pure and simple. The criminal justice system miserably failed Daniel and his family.”
Shaver’s parents and widow have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the city of Mesa over the hotel shooting.
During the monthlong trial Brailsford testified that he believed Shaver, of Granbury, Texas, was reaching for a gun.
“If this situation happened exactly as it did that time, I would have done the same thing,” Brailsford testified, according to the Arizona Republic.
After the shooting, police went into Shaver’s hotel room and found two pellet guns he used in his job as a pest exterminator.
A lawyer for Brailsford — who was fired shortly after the shooting for violating department policy in an unrelated incident — did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Nate Gafvert, president of the Mesa Police Association, a group that represents law enforcement officers, said the shooting was a lawful use of force.
“Officers should not be prosecuted based on perception and public appeal,” Gafvert said after the verdict. “We are a nation of laws. And emotion and empathy cannot carry the day.”
Brailsford is the latest in a number of police officers to be acquitted in high-profile shootings, despite being captured on body-camera video. Many of the shootings have involved unarmed black men. Shaver was white.
In May, an Oklahoma jury acquitted an officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher as he stood with his hands above his head along a rural highway. In June, a Minnesota jury acquitted the officer who killed Philando Castile, an unarmed black man shot during a traffic stop, which was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend. That same month, an Ohio judge declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked, unable to agree on whether to convict a former University of Cincinnati police officer who killed Samuel DuBose in an incident captured on a body camera.
Brailsford’s acquittal on Thursday came the same day that a white former South Carolina officer, who fatally shot an unarmed black man in the back as he fled after a traffic stop, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Video of the shooting by a passer-by played a decisive role in that case.
Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it’s important to remember that body cameras give only “a portion of the big picture.”
“They do not reflect the totality of the circumstances — the fear of the officers, the overall environment,” she said, adding that officers always have to consider the possibility that a person is armed.
© 2017 Los Angeles Times
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