Prosecutor defends withholding video in Mesa police shooting

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La Quinta Inn & Suites on East Superstition Springs Boulevard (Source: KPHO/KTVK) La Quinta Inn & Suites on East Superstition Springs Boulevard (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
PHOENIX (AP) -

The top prosecutor for metro Phoenix said Wednesday he won't release body-camera video of a police officer fatally shooting an unarmed man, despite a push by the man's wife and news organizations to make the footage public.

A judge has barred release of the video that shows Mesa Officer Philip Brailsford killing Daniel Shaver as he crawled on the ground. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office and the officer's lawyer argued his fair-trial rights could be harmed and the jury pool tainted if the video is released.

The Associated Press and other news organizations filed court papers last week asking for the footage to be unsealed, contending that withholding the video violates Arizona's public records law.

"There is really nothing more to be gained, other than the shock value," Montgomery said Wednesday, explaining that he has an ethical obligation to ensure that people charged with crimes get fair trials.

His comments came as an audio recording surfaced of a March 14 conversation between Montgomery and Shaver's wife in which the prosecutor belittled the news media for seeking the video.

"They don't care about you," Montgomery told Laney Sweet. "They don't care about your husband. All they want to do is trade on your emotion and on the impact to you and your family."

Police shootings have presented a challenge for prosecutors around the country in recent months amid growing unrest over the cases. Prosecutors in Cleveland and Chicago were booted from office last month, in part over how they handled deadly police shootings captured on video.

Montgomery, himself facing re-election this year, took the rare step of bringing a murder charge against Brailsford, but soon faced backlash after he refused to release the video.

[Investigation: Mesa officers shoots, kills unarmed man at Mesa La Quinta Inn]

The officer was released from custody without having to post bond.

At one point, Montgomery told Sweet that the video of the shooting needs to be withheld because news organizations wanted to use the footage to portray the Mesa Police Department as evil.

Sweet claims the officer is receiving preferential treatment from prosecutors, and she was emotional during the conversation with Montgomery about some of the plea negotiations that were taking place. She said prosecutors offered a deal to Brailsford to plead guilty to negligent homicide that would carry punishments ranging from probation up to nearly four years in prison.

In the recording, Sweet refers to such a prospect as "a slap in the face."

Montgomery's office said it hasn't made an offer of a plea agreement to Brailsford, but the prosecutor has said previously that his office had relayed to Brailsford what he called a potential pretrial resolution to the case.

Shaver was killed Jan. 18 outside his hotel room after someone told police a man was pointing a rifle out a window. He and a woman were ordered to crawl toward officers in the hallway of the hotel.

A tearful Shaver pleaded with officers not to shoot him moments before Brailsford opened fire, according to a police report.

Police said Shaver twice disobeyed their orders, and he was shot after reaching toward his waistband.

No weapons were recovered from Shaver's body, but two pellet rifles were found in the hotel room and determined to be related to his pest control job, police said.

Brailsford, 25, has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge. He was fired last month for several policy violations, including unsatisfactory performance.

Authorities released an extensive account of the shooting last month that included police reports, 911 calls and other records.

In an interview Wednesday, Sweet said she has rights as a victim to know what happened in her husband's death.

"I want to see if for myself," Sweet said. In the end, she wasn't allowed to see the video, but her attorney at the time viewed it.

She pressed Montgomery to release the recording and cited her First Amendment rights. Montgomery told Sweet that he couldn't let her see the video if she was going to later describe its contents to news organizations.

Sweet confirmed Wednesday that she recorded the hour-long exchange with Montgomery. The prosecutor didn't know she was making a recording, but said it was legal.

He described the meeting as a personal exchange between his office and a victim of a crime. Montgomery declined to make additional comments about the meeting.

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