Most regular Power Line readers know that I don’t criticize the police lightly. I think I understand the dangers officers face when they confront suspects and need to make instant assessments of their intentions. That understanding makes me loath to condemn officers whose split second decisions produce tragic results.
However, the case of former Mesa, Arizona police officer Philip Brailsford is different. His killing of Daniel Shaver warrants condemnation, though he was acquitted on charges of murder and manslaughter.
The video of the killing, posted below, is not for the faint of heart. If you view it, though, I think you will agree that this killing cannot be defended.
The story is this. Shaver, a pest control worker, was drunk and messing around with a pellet gun he used for his job. Someone called the police to report that he’d been pointing a gun out a window.
The police arrived on edge, naturally. When Shaver stumbled out of his hotel room, the police ordered him to get on the ground. He complied immediately.
An officer (apparently not Brailsford) then issued a series of orders with which Shaver, again, complied as best he could. Here, via Matt Walsh, is what Shaver was ordered to do while having a gun pointed at his head and being repeatedly threatened with death:
“Lie on the ground,” “put both hands on top of your head and interlace your fingers,” “take your feet and cross your left foot over your right foot,” “keep your feet crossed,” “put both hands flat in front of you” (while they’re on his head and interlaced?), “push yourself to a kneeling position” (have you ever tried to push yourself up while your arms are extended all the way in front of you?), “put both hands in the air,” “crawl towards me” (with his hands in the air?), “stop,” “crawl,” “keep your legs crossed” (while crawling?), “put your hands in the air,” “keep your legs crossed,” “crawl” (so he’s supposed to crawl again with his hands in the air and his legs crossed).
Shaver cries and begs for his life.
As Shaver crawls, he reaches back, probably to pull up his basketball shorts. Brailsford kills him with rapid fire shots from his rifle.
Brailsford’s defense is that he thought Shaver was reaching back for a gun. There was no gun in Shaver’s shorts.
Moreover, Shaver had done nothing to indicate that he posed a danger (unlike, say, Michael Brown). In any case, if Brailsford’s goal was to arrest Shaver and protect himself, all he needed to do was to have the suspect cuffed at any point while he was on the ground with his hands flat in front of him.
From watching the video, it’s clear to me that Brailsford killed Shaver for disobeying an order rather than because he posed a threat. Even viewing the video as charitably as plausible to Brailsford, I don’t see how he avoided a conviction for manslaughter.
Perhaps he wouldn’t have if the judge had not excluded evidence of what the defendant wrote on the dust cover of his rifle: “you’re f**ked.” Daniel Shaver certainly was.
Why, given all of the criticism police officers endure these days, hasn’t this killing, which took place almost two years ago, received more attention? The answer, I think, is that Shaver was white.
I agree with Walsh:
Had Shaver been a different shade, there would be riots in Phoenix and round-the-clock coverage on CNN. “Daniel Shaver” would be a name as famous and ubiquitous as Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.
But that’s not how things have worked, because the media isn’t interested in exposing police misconduct generally. They’re interested in exposing racially motivated police misconduct, even if they have to fabricate it out of thin air.
UPDATE: In the initial post, I stated, per Matt Walsh, that Brailsford gave Shaver the series of orders. However, the Washington Post’s report says the orders came from another policeman, Sgt. Charles Langley.
Having read additional accounts, I believe it was Langley, not Brailsford, who gave the orders. I’ve modified the original post to reflect this.
Even assuming that Brailsford didn’t give the order, it seems to me that he committed manslaughter at a minimum. However, I can more easily understand why a jury would regard him in a better light than if he was the one barking the orders.