A judge has ruled that prosecutors have presented enough evidence to move forward with a murder charge against an Arizona police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed man.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sam Myers ruled Monday that prosecutors established probable cause to believe that Mesa Officer Philip Brailsford had committed second-degree murder in the Jan. 18 shooting death of Daniel Shaver of Granbury, Texas. Brailsford's attorney said the judge's decision could later be reversed based on the comments of a defense witness who will resume his testimony Tuesday.
Shaver was killed outside his Mesa hotel after police were called there to respond to a report that someone was pointing a gun out a window.
Detective Paul Sipe, the lead investigator in the case, testified that a video taken with Brailsford's body camera shows that Shaver wasn't yelling or voicing threats as he was being detained and instead cried as he pleaded with officers not to kill him.
He portrayed Shaver as complying with instructions given by police shortly before the shooting.
"I did not see what I would term a noncompliant act," Sipe said. Still, the detective noted that Shaver appeared confused by the instructions from the officers.
The 25-year-old former officer, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge, had told investigators that he opened fire out of fear that Shaver was reaching for a gun as Shaver was laying on the ground.
Sipe said the video shows Shaver walking out of his hotel room and raising his hands as he exited. As he cried, Shaver was told by another officer that he may not survive the encounter if he doesn't follow their commands.
Shaver was face-down on the ground, but he seemed confused when he was told not move - and then to put his hands on his head, Sipe said.
Officers at the scene say Shaver twice disobeyed their orders, and he was shot after reaching toward his waistband.
Sipe said the officers used an unusual practice of getting Shaver to crawl toward them in the hallway of the hotel.
One officer later explained that Shaver was told to crawl because officers were concerned about the possibility of other people still being in the room and didn't want Shaver standing in their way.
No weapons were recovered from Shaver's body, but they found two pellet rifles in the hotel room, which investigators later determined were related to his pest-control job.
Sgt. Charles Langley, the officer in charge of the team responding to the report, was called to testify on behalf of Brailsford. Langley said Shaver wasn't following the orders of officers and could have been trying to pull out a gun.
Langley said he would have opened fire on Shaver, but he didn't want to injure or kill Brailsford, who was positioned directly in front of Langley.
"I believed at the time and I believe now that he was protecting the team," Langley said. "That was his job - to make sure that we weren't killed or seriously injured."
Craig Mehrens, Brailsford's attorney, Shaver had lied to police about being intoxicated and pointed out that the shooting occurred as officers faced a high-risk situation in responding to the report at the hotel.
Shaver's widow and news organizations have asked to view Brailsford's body-camera video. The judge had ruled earlier this month that the video will remain under seal until he makes findings on the preliminary hearing.
Police shooting videos have become the focal point of protests around the country over deadly encounters with law enforcement. For example, Chicago officials fought for more than a year to withhold a video showing a teenager getting shot by a police officer, and the court-ordered release of the footage prompted heated protests against Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
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