A Killer Cop Gets Away With an Execution

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising anymore.

A cop murders a sobbing, unarmed man as he’s sprawled on the ground, begging not to be shot. This is one of the rare police killings where an officer was actually charged with a crime. But in the end, he was acquitted.

It shouldn’t be surprising, given the litany of cases — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and on and on — in which killer cops walked free after murdering someone.

But anyone who has had the stomach to watch the footage of the last moments of Daniel Shaver’s life — to witness his terror, his frantic pleas, and the unchecked relish that Mesa, Arizona, police took in demanding his humiliating compliance in the moments before officer Philip Brailsford opened fire — should be outraged by both the circumstances of the killing and the fact that Brailsford is a free man today.

Daniel Shaver was killed in January 2016, but the video of his murder was only released to the public this week, after Brailsford was acquitted on charges of murder and manslaughter earlier this month.

For most people, there’s simply no way to view the four-plus minutes of footage, recorded by a body camera worn by Brailsford, without coming away sickened by the actions of police.

In an interview, veteran attorney Mark Geragos, who represents Shaver’s widow and two small children, described the chilling footage as some of the most horrifying he’s seen in his career:

One of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in my life is sitting in a courtroom with his widow, who watched it for the second time, and she literally went into convulsions. I had to grab her to hold her in a bear hug. It was just awful…

I’ve been doing criminal and civil rights [legal work] for 35 years. I’ve seen thousands of tapes. This is light years beyond anything I’ve ever seen…it burns a hole in your brain. I literally had nightmares about it.

***

Police were called to Shaver’s hotel room on January 18, 2016 after a report that he had been pointing a “rifle” out the window. In actuality, he had been drinking with an acquaintance and showed her a pellet gun he used for his work in pest control.

Arizona is an “open carry” state, including for weapons like rifles — but that didn’t matter to the police. (Notably, the hypocrites at the National Rifle Association haven’t made any statement in defense of Shaver’s right to have a weapon.)

Brailsford and five other officers showed up and ordered Shaver and his companion out of the room. The terrified man, unarmed, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, is shown in the video putting his hands in the air immediately and lying down on the floor of the hotel hallway.

“If you make a mistake, another mistake, there is a very severe possibility that you’re both going to get shot. Do you understand?” Sgt. Charles Langley yelled. As the video unfolds, Langley tells Shaver, “If you move, we’re going to consider that a threat, and we are going to deal with it, and you may not survive it.”

Langley’s directions to Shaver only added to the confusion — he tells Shaver to not put his hands down for any reason, only to then tell him to crawl forward.

When Shaver’s legs became uncrossed — apparently inadvertently after Langley instructed him to push himself into a kneeling position — Langley screams and threatens him again, prompting a sobbing Shaver to yell, “I’m sorry…Please do not shoot me.”

Shaver then crawls down the hallway as instructed by officers — but when he makes the mistake of reaching back, apparently to pull up his shorts, Brailsford begins shooting — and doesn’t stop until he unloads five rounds. The “shots were fired so rapidly that in watching the video at regular speed, one cannot count them,” read the report from the detective who investigated the shooting.

That same report, while agreeing that the move Shaver made could have been interpreted as reaching for a weapon, also noted that there was nothing preventing the officers from handcuffing Shaver while he was on the ground.

Yet at trial, Brailsford was unapologetic, telling the jury, “If this situation happened exactly as it did that time, I would have done the same thing.”

He had the nerve to say, however, that he was “incredibly sad” for Shaver.

As Buck Sexton — a former CIA officer hardly predisposed to be critical of law enforcement — wrote for The Hill, “Officers Brailsford and Langley turned a routine arrest into a lethal game of ‘Simon Says,’ and Shaver paid for it with his life…Shaver tried to grab a shred of dignity in the situation, not a weapon, and a hyper-aggressive cop shot him for it…Simply put, the Shaver shooting was an execution video. “

***

There were a total of six officers on the scene, yet Brailsford was the only one to fire his weapon. So which is more likely — that his fellow officers underestimated the risk that the unarmed man posed, or that Brailsford overreacted?

And maybe Brailsford was predisposed to fire.

The officer had been investigated — though cleared of wrongdoing — for excessive use of force in 2015 after video showed him slamming a teenager to the ground as fellow officers engaged in similar tactics against another.

One piece of information that the jury never got to hear was the fact that Brailsford had etched the words “You’re fucked” into the AR-15 that he used to kill Shaver — a chilling indication of the macho posturing and enthusiasm for killing that the cop gravitated toward.

That fact, however, was ruled “prejudicial” — so lawyers couldn’t tell the jury about it.

The Mesa police department fired Brailsford after Shaver’s killing for “policy violations,” including the inscription on his weapon. But even that rare move wasn’t enough to convince a jury to convict.

Shaver was white, but many Black Lives Matter activists have called for justice for him and his family, pointing out that while many acts of police brutality are unquestionably motivated by racism, cases like the murder of Daniel Shaver show that the epidemic of police violence goes even further.

As this article was being written, police in the US had shot and killed at least 2,884 people between 2015 and 2017, according to a . Despite widespread outrage at the killings, as well as calls for both more prosecutions of killer cops and measures like the increased use of police body cameras, the pace of the killings has remained consistent — with at least 926 people killed so far this year.

***

Daniel Shaver was just one of the lives taken, but his case illuminates the degree to which cops are allowed to kill with near impunity in America — and the threat they pose to ordinary people.

While statistics show that three-quarters of murder victims in the US are killed by someone they know, of the quarter who are killed by strangers, one-third are killed by police. Writing at Granta, Patrick Ball noted:

America is a land ruled by fear. We fear that our children will be abducted by strangers, that crazed gunmen will perpetrate mass killings in our schools and theaters, that terrorists will gun us down or blow up our buildings, and that serial killers will stalk us on dark streets. All of these risks are real, but they are minuscule in probability: taken together, these threats constitute less than 3 percent of total annual homicides in the US

The numerically greater threat to our safety, and the largest single category of strangers who threaten us, are the people we have empowered to use deadly force to protect us from these less probable threats. The question for Americans is whether we will continue to tolerate police violence at this scale in return for protection against the quantitatively less likely threats.

The answer suggested by the acquittal of Phillip Brailsford — like many other killer cops before him — is a discouraging one.

Not everyone is at the same risk, of course — police disproportionately kill, injure and brutalize African Americans and other minorities, rarely suffering any consequences. Nationally, only 80 officers have even been charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings in the 12 years between 2005 and April 2017.

As ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffery Robinson noted in a statement:

The police are screaming that the cost of a mistake is death — what kind of training teaches that as a proper way to deal with people?…

This video demonstrates how far we have gone as a country in accepting the culture of police violence. Policing in America has advanced to the state where anyone can be killed for no good reason.