Reports shed light on fatal Mesa police shootingPosted: Updated:
Newly released reports from a fatal police shooting in Mesa show that an unarmed man pleaded with officers not to hurt him shortly before one officer opened fire out of a fear the man was reaching for a gun.
The reports examining the death of Daniel Shaver said he sobbed and appeared panicked outside his Mesa hotel room as officers ordered him to keep his hands on the ground. Officer Philip Brailsford, who fatally shot Shaver, faces a murder charge.
Officers, who were called there on a report that a man was pointing a rifle out a window on Jan. 18, said Shaver repeatedly disobeyed their orders.
"Please don't shoot me," the report quotes Shaver as saying.
Several witnesses and hotel employees told police after the shooting that Shaver was drunk. Photos from the scene showed several alcohol bottles in Shaver's room. The autopsy revealed Shaver's blood alcohol level was .29, which is more than three times the legal definition of intoxicated and nearly twice the level that is considered "under the extreme influence of intoxicating liquor."
The Mesa Police Department on Tuesday released police reports, 911 calls, crime scene photos and other records from its investigation of Shaver's death. They also released records on Brailsford.
[SLIDESHOW: Police crime scene photos]
Officers had ordered Shaver and a woman, Monique Portillo, to exit the hotel room and crawl toward officers. Portillo, who had met Shaver in a hotel elevator and was drinking alcohol with him, complied with police orders and wasn't hurt. Portillo told officers there had been a third person in the room, but that person left before the police arrived.
No weapons were recovered from Shaver's body, but investigators found two pellet rifles in the hotel room, which they later determined were related to his pest control job, police said. The guns were presumably what witnesses saw in Shaver's hotel room window that prompted the original call to police.
"They were just looking at the gun and I was like, 'Don't point that at the window," said Portillo, describing Shaver and another man holding Shaver's pellet guns before cops arrived.
Prosecutors concluded the shooting was not justified.
[ORIGINAL STORY: Officer-involved shooting at a Mesa La Quinta Inn leaves man dead]
Officer who pulled the trigger fired, charged with murder
Brailsford, 25, has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge against him. He was fired earlier this month for several policy violations, including unsatisfactory performance.
Maricopa County prosecutors and Mesa police have declined to release video of the shooting from Brailsford's body camera.
The records released Tuesday included the police interview that Brailsford gave after he shot Shaver.
Brailsford told investigators that Shaver, who is from Granbury, Texas, was ordered to crawl toward officers with his hands on the ground. But the officer believed Shaver's move forward was an attempt to get "a better firing position on us."
The officer said he could no longer see Shaver's right hand and worried that Shaver could have easily drawn on officers who were just feet away in a hallway outside his room.
"So that's when I assessed the threat. I fired my weapon, uh, five times," Brailsford said, adding that it was terrifying the first time Shaver reached back.
The accounts of several other officers at the scene indicate that they, too, believed Shaver might have been going for a gun. Brailsford, however, was the only one who opened fire.
Portillo, who told police she didn't see why police shot Shaver, said she did hear him begging not to be shot in the moments before bullets flew.
"He was even like, pleading for his life. He's like 'don't shoot me!' And I don't know what he did but the cops shot him," Portillo told police after the shooting.
Mark Geragos, an attorney representing Shaver's wife, Laney Sweet, disputes that Shaver wasn't following police orders.
"She wants the body cam (footage) released just so everyone can see how ridiculous and outrageous this is," Geragos said.
Body camera video
Prosecutors and defense attorneys filed a joint motion to seal the body camera video of the shooting.
"The State makes this request in order to protect the integrity of the criminal case, the rights of the accused to a fair and impartial jury of his peers as well as the rights of the deceased victim’s next of kin," the motion reads.
One argument is that the state's need to protect its case outweighs the public interest in seeing that video.
"Neither the media nor the public needs all the Axon body camera videos and the reports to be well informed about the facts of this case or the investigation, and there are alternative means available to obtain the information.
"The media in this case is seeking to capitalize on the graphic nature of this case and the request for the Axon body camera videos of Defendant’s shooting of the victim, the victim asking to not be shot, the victim crying, the victim crawling on his hands and knees are urgent images with 'broadcast value' but the value is informational and 'voyeuristic.' As such, they are not essential for informing the public about the incident, and the public’s need to see them is presently outweighed by the collective interests of the State, victims, and Defendant in a fair trial and due process."
The second and third arguments focus on the right of the victim to privacy and the defendant's right to a fair trial respectively.
"The public’s interest in the video is purely sensational and voyeuristic because there are no other reasons for broadcasting videos showing Defendant killing Mr. Shaver.
"There is no real benefit to the public and the media seeing the details of the shooting, and the witnesses should not have access to the contents of the video footage because such access may impact their testimonies at the preliminary hearing, at any evidentiary hearings, and at trial."
Valley media outlets have committed to fighting the motion.
A split-second decision
Brailsford's attorney, Craig Mehrens, said his client is being judged on a split-second decision made when dealing with a man who had been drinking and ignored police orders.
"They are not to be judge with 20/20 hindsight," Mehrens said.
The other records released by Mesa police show that Brailsford was accused of using inappropriate force when he and other officers took three people into custody several months before Shaver's death. Brailsford also was accused of violating departmental policy by using a rifle that had profane language etched onto it.
Audio files released by the Mesa Police Department on Tuesday, March 29, 2016
- 911 call made by La Quinta Inn employee
- Walk-through interview with Philip Brailsford | Transcript (PDF) of Brailsford interview
- Witness interview: Monique Portillo
- Witness interview: Luis Nunez
- Police radio calls during the incident
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