Former Mesa police officer on trial for murder testifies

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Philip "Mitch" Brailsford took the stand on Wednesday. (Source: Pool) Philip "Mitch" Brailsford took the stand on Wednesday. (Source: Pool)
Brailsford claims he thought Shaver was reaching for a gun when police were trying to take him into custody and was refusing police commands. (Source: Pool) Brailsford claims he thought Shaver was reaching for a gun when police were trying to take him into custody and was refusing police commands. (Source: Pool)

The former Mesa police officer who is on trial for second-degree murder in the shooting death of an unarmed man took the witness stand in his own defense on Wednesday afternoon.

Philip "Mitch" Brailsford said he was doing what he was trained to do when he saw a threat.

[RAW VIDEO: Former Mesa PD officers testifies during murder trial (Part 1)]

He is charged in the shooting death of Daniel Shaver at a hotel in Mesa in January of 2016. Shaver is from Texas. Officers went to the hotel on a call that someone was pointing a rifle out a window.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Mesa police officer shoots, kills unarmed man in motel]

Brailsford claims he thought Shaver was reaching for a gun when police were trying to take him into custody and was refusing police commands. Shaver didn't have a gun.

The ex-lawman described his growing up in Mesa, his time as an Eagle Scout, missionary and member of the U.S. Army National Guard of Arizona. He then talked about the process and training he went through to become a Mesa police officer. 

[RAW VIDEO: Ex-police officer describes his background]

While on the stand, Brailsford described going up to the fifth floor of the hotel.

He described how he and one other officer, both armed with AR-15 rifles, were assigned as “cover officers” to guard the team as the situation unfolded and they tried to make contact with the necessary people to assure safety in the hotel. 

"I was perfectly focused on my job and I knew what needed to be done," Brailsford said.

[RELATED: Only civilian witness to Mesa police shooting testifies in cop's murder trial]

He said his police supervisor told the man and a woman to come out of Room 502 but said there was no response from the room.

After the phone rang inside the room and it was answered, Brailsford said a man and a woman came out of the room.

He testified that the woman followed commands and was taken into custody unhurt.

Shaver was ordered to lie face-down in a hotel hallway.

[READ MORE: Jurors in Arizona see video of officer killing unarmed man]

Brailsford explained his main focus was on Shaver's hands because he had been taught that it's the hands that kill you.

[RAW VIDEO: Ex-Mesa police officer describes deadly shooting]

He testified that Shaver disobeyed orders to not put his hands behind him on a couple of occasions.

"For some reason, he placed his hands behind his back," Brailsford said. "For one I didn’t know why he did that he wasn’t instructed in my training that could mean a weapons check."

Brailsford says he fired his rifle when Shaver, reached behind him again, this time in what he described was a classic “draw stroke,” as if drawing a gun. 

Brailsford said he was terrified for the safety of officers and a woman who were in the hallway.

His voice cracked with emotion when he described learning the next day that Shaver didn't have a gun on his body. "I still cannot understand why he made that motion," Brailsford said, adding that he wouldn't have fired if Shaver hadn't reached toward his back.

Shaver can be heard on body camera video saying, "Please do not shoot me."

[RELATED: Former officer charged with murder will testify]

While no gun was found on Shaver's body, two pellet rifles related to his pest-control job were later found in his room.

The detective investigating the shooting has agreed Shaver's movement was similar to reaching for a pistol, but has said it also looked as though Shaver was pulling up his loose-fitting basketball shorts that had fallen down as he crawled. The investigator had noted he didn't see anything that would have prevented officers from simply handcuffing Shaver as he was on the floor.

The shooting occurred as police departments across the United States became the focal point of protests over deadly encounters with law enforcement.

Brailsford served as a Mesa officer for about two years before he was fired for violations of departmental policy, including unsatisfactory performance.

The courtroom was packed, with police officers, and family members of both Brailsford and Shaver. 

[RAW VIDEO: Ex-Mesa police officer answers questions from prosecution]

Shaver's mother cried and walked out of the courtroom when Brailsford described how Shaver's body fell over after the shooting. Shaver's widow, Laney Sweet, also cried during Brailsford's testimony.

Brailsford described to jurors the stress that he faced in responding to the call. He said officers didn't know whether Shaver was armed or whether there were other people inside Shaver's hotel room.

"We don't know all the information at this point. That's what we were dealing with. It was stressful," Brailsford said.

Brailsford also reflected on the aftermath of the shooting. "I felt incredibly sad for him," Brailsford said of Shaver.

Prosecutor Susie Charbel suggested in a question that Brailsford's testimony was coached, but her question was overruled by the judge.

Still, Brailsford said he watched a video of the shooting at least 100 times and reviewed a transcript from his interview with investigators in preparation for the trial.

"I felt I needed to be prepared for trial," Brailsford said.

The prosecutor is scheduled to continue her cross-examination of Brailsford on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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