Police Departments across the country are getting some pretty bad press these days. Thanks to the hundreds of videos on the Internet displaying some of their number being overzealous, rash, or downright brutal, it’s a difficult time for the men and women of law enforcement.
Choosing a career in law enforcement is not an easy decision to make. They dedicate their lives to protecting us and face danger every day. So it’s no wonder that officers are understandably jumpy when they get a call that a suspect is armed. Still, it seems that the public isn’t always forgiving when that jumpiness translates to something as serious as a “justifiable homicide”…
26-year-old Daniel Shaver was staying at the Mesa La Quinta Inn and Suites when the incident occurred. Shaver, a pest control worker, and native Texan, was on business and the hotel stay was a necessity, but he was determined to enjoy himself either way. He’d even made a few friends while he was there.
Friends and Drinks
Monique Portillo and Luis Nunez, both of whom had been on a similar business trip from New Mexico, had made Shaver’s acquaintance and as a result, had been invited up to his room for drinks. Shaver and the women were a few drinks in when he asked them if they wanted to see the unique extermination tool he’d brought for his job…
Scope this Out
Shaver pulled out the scoped air rifle he’d brought with him and explained that he used the pellet gun to exterminate birds inside grocery stores. In what was very likely a show of drunken bravado, Shaver stuck the rifle out of his fifth-floor window and let the girls look through the scope. Below them, a couple in the hotel’s hot tub noticed the rifle and panicked.
Call the Cops
The couple called the hotel receptionist, who in turn called the police. The police were soon in route to the hotel. Shortly before they arrived, Nunez left the hotel room and never got the chance to reconvene with her friends. A few minutes later, six armed officers were lining the hotel corridor, ordering Shaver and Portillo to exit the room…
Failure to Comply
The officers all had their guns out and pointed at the door. They warned the room’s occupants that they had better come out with their hands up. They added that any failure to comply would end up getting both of them shot. Several minutes and aggressive admonitions later, and the two emerged.
Keep em’ Crossed
Portillo was taken into custody unharmed, then Police Sergeant Charles Langley ordered Shaver to the ground. He told Shaver to cross his legs and then ordered him to push himself up into a kneeling position. Unable to do both, Shaver uncrossed his legs. Langley shouted that he needed to keep his legs crossed and Shaver began to panic…
Startled by the sergeant’s shouting and still quite drunk, Shaver put his hands behind his back. Once again, Langley warned him to keep his hands in the air and admonished him for failing to comply with the officer’s instructions. He warned that if Shaver deviated from their instructions again, his officers would open fire.
Shaver, still panicked, said, “Please don’t shoot me.” Then, upon being instructed to crawl, the exterminator put his hands down and crawled on all fours. He began to crawl toward the officers and then, quite suddenly, paused to move his right hand towards his waistband. It was the last mistake he’d ever make…
Officer Philip Brailsford, who had been on the scene as well, believed that Shaver was reaching for some sort of weapon. After all, they had been warned that the man in that room was armed. Brailsford opened fire with his AR-15 rifle. He ended up striking Shaver five times, which killed him almost instantly. It was only afterward, he learned that Shaver was completely unarmed.
Shaver was indeed unarmed when he was shot down and it wasn’t until the officers examined the room that they learned his “rifle” was little more than a pellet gun. The subsequent autopsy revealed that Shaver was highly intoxicated as well and had a blood-alcohol level over three times the legal driving limit. So why had he reached for his waist?
Assumptions and Charges
The only thing that the officers could guess was that he had been attempting to prevent his shorts from slipping down. It was an unconscious action, something that he, inebriated as he was, probably didn’t even realize he was doing. Eventually, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office decided that they were going to press charges against Officer Brailsford.
Brailsford was being charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty, of course, but there were some facts about his background and the case itself that gave the attorney’s office reason to believe that the use of deadly physical force had not been justified in that particular instance. It seemed the Mesa Police Department agreed as well…
Brailsford was fired by the department later that month and they cited several policy violations and unsatisfactory performance reviews as their reasoning. An internal investigation report revealed much about Brailsford’s misconduct over the years, including several other incidents that raised similar red flags.
He had been investigated for several violations which included needlessly body slamming a teenager during an arrest. He had also violated department weapon policy by engraving the phrases “You’re f*#@%ed” and “Molon labe” (a Greek expression meaning “come and take them”) on his patrol rifle. Unfortunately for the attorney’s office, there were some holdups ahead…
Many of the holdups in the case against Brailsford involved the fact that both the prosecution and the defense wanted to seal the footage from Brailsford’s body camera. Shaver’s wife had requested that the footage is released but that request was originally refused. When the Mesa Police Department eventually released the footage, they redacted it.
Brailsford was facing up to 25 years in prison if found guilty, so his defense attorneys were doing everything they could to ensure that the bodycam footage was sealed. Apparently, the redacted version brought up some tough questions. Superior Court Judge Sam Myers granted the motion to seal the footage but allowed for portions of it to be released sometime later. Something odd was going on…
Part of the problem was that the released video omitted the actual shooting itself. Instead, the redacted police version included footage from Brailsford’s body camera up to the time when someone exits Shaver’s hotel room. It also included blended footage from another officer’s camera as he was escorting a woman from the room.
Sort of an Acquittal
Without the whole footage, the jury had no choice but to find Brailsford not guilty of murder and reckless manslaughter. Hours later, the Mesa Police Department released the full unedited body camera footage of the shooting. Since then, the case has been reopened and the United States Department of Justice is looking into a possible civil rights violation by Brailsford. That’s not all, either…
Today, Monique Portillo, the other woman who was taken away by police on that terrible day, is seeking punitive damages and lawyer fees from the Mesa Police Department. She claims that she was unjustly handcuffed and made to witness Shaver’s shooting. She also claims that the police have yet to return her jacket and purse from that night.
At the same time, Laney Sweet, Shaver’s widow, has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Mesa as have his parents. Those suits have been combined but will likely continue to trouble Brailsford and his former friends in the department for years to come. See the video of the shocking verdict below…
An Unwelcome Verdict