PHOENIX – Officers responding to a call that someone was pointing a rifle out a window at an Arizona hotel rushed to the guest’s room and ordered a man inside to exit, lie face-down in the hallway and refrain from making any sudden movements – or risk being shot.
Daniel Shaver of Granbury, Texas, sobbed as he begged police at the Mesa hotel not to shoot, and was ordered to crawl toward officers. As he inched forward, he reached toward the waistband of his shorts, leading an officer who believed Shaver was grabbing a handgun to fatally shoot him.
As it turned out, no gun was found on Shaver’s body.
Then-Officer Philip Brailsford, who goes on trial this week on a murder charge in the 2016 death, maintains the shooting was justified to protect himself and others. He said Shaver was moving toward officers to get in a better firing position and disobeyed earlier warnings against making unauthorized movements.
The detective investigating the shooting agreed Shaver’s movement was similar to reaching for a pistol, but said it also looked as though Shaver was pulling up his loose-fitting basketball shorts that had fallen down as he crawled.
The investigator added Shaver wasn’t yelling or voicing threats, and noted he didn’t see anything that would have prevented officers from simply handcuffing Shaver as he was on the floor.
The Arizona shooting occurred as police departments across the United States became the focal point of protests over deadly encounters with law enforcement. Jury selection began last week, and opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday.
Brailsford, 26, served as a Mesa officer for about two years before he was fired for violations of departmental policy, including unsatisfactory performance.
Prosecutor Susie Charbel said body-camera videos of the shooting show no indications Shaver had a gun during the three-minute encounter.
She said the officer who led the police team at the hotel ordered Shaver to cross his legs while he was on the ground and later shouted at Shaver when he uncrossed his legs after Shaver was ordered to push himself up to a kneeling position.
“I said keep your legs crossed,” Sgt. Charles Langley said. Shaver, who crossed his legs again, could be heard apologizing and crying.
Charbel said Shaver later put his hands behind his back as if he anticipated being handcuffed, leading Langley to shout, “You do that again, and we’re shooting you. Do you understand?”
“Please, do not shoot me,” Shaver said.
While no weapons were found on Shaver’s body, two pellet rifles related to his pest-control job were later found in his hotel room.
Brailsford attorney Michael Piccarreta and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the former officer, declined to comment on issues that will be raised during trial. But Piccarreta said in court records there would be no case against his client had a gun been found on Shaver’s body.
“Officer Brailsford would be congratulated for his conduct in saving lives by engaging the same conduct that now has him facing decades in prison,” Piccarreta said. “However, if one thing is clear, it is that Officer Brailsford cannot be punished for not knowing what was simply unknowable to him and the other officers at the time.”
Officers had ordered Shaver and a woman inside his hotel room to exit.
The woman, who met Shaver in a hotel elevator and was drinking alcohol with him, complied with police orders and wasn’t hurt. She told investigators Shaver and another man were playing with a gun in the room and had pointed it out the window, though the other man left the room before officers arrived.
A lawyer for Shaver’s widow said it looked as though authorities were treating Brailsford differently than other people facing murder charges, noting Brailsford was released from custody without having to post a bond.
Shaver’s widow also complained that prosecutors offered a deal to Brailsford to plead guilty to negligent homicide and face punishment ranging from probation to nearly four years in prison. Brailsford declined the plea offer, according to court records.
“This office will prosecute this case with the same degree of professionalism as we do any other, recognizing the due process rights of the defendant, the rights of the victim and the victim’s family in pursuit of a just result for all,” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said when announcing the charge in 2016.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Brailsford would face 10 to 25 years in prison.