Fate of Mesa Cop Accused of Murder Is in Jury’s Hands

PHOENIX (CN) — A jury begins deliberations Wednesday on the fate of a former Mesa, Arizona, police officer accused of shooting an unarmed man to death as he lay in a hotel corridor.

Philip “Mitch” Brailsford, 27, is charged with the second-degree murder of Daniel Shaver, 26, at a La Quinta Inn & Suites in Mesa.

“This case is about words and about our actions,” prosecutor Susie Charbel told the jury during closing arguments Tuesday. “Do they match? Do the words match the actions?”

A couple using the hotel’s Jacuzzi on Jan. 18, 2016, saw Shaver handling a rifle in his room and told staff, who called 911. Shaver, who lived in Texas and was staying at the hotel as part of his job, worked in pest control and regularly used air rifles.

Mesa Police officers, including Brailsford, ordered Shaver and a female guest, Monique Portillo, out of his hotel room.

In the hallway, Shaver and Portillo were ordered to drop to the ground and crawl toward the officers. Portillo crawled over first, and as Shaver crawled toward the officers, Brailsford fired five shots from his AR-15 rifle, killing him.

Brailsford says the shooting was justified because he saw Shaver reach toward the waistband of the basketball shorts he was wearing.

Jurors were shown Brailsford’s body camera footage of the shooting during trial. It was the first time an unedited version of the footage has aired publicly, but the footage has not been fully released to the public yet.

Before the trial started, Maricopa County Judge George Foster granted a motion filed by the defense to prevent the media from recording the body cam footage. Portions of the video, including the actual shooting of Shaver, remain sealed until Brailsford’s sentencing or acquittal.

On the footage, Shaver appears to move his arm to pull up his basketball shorts.

Charbel told the jurors that when they rewatch the footage during deliberations, they will see that Shaver was scared.

“He put his hands up right away,” Charbel said. “He saw that now he was looking down the barrel of two rifles and at least one Taser.”

Portillo testified last month that she heard Shaver say “Please don’t shoot me” to the officers before Brailsford fired.

“No one needs to protect an honest person, a truthful reasonable person,” Charbel told the jury. “Use your common sense. This defendant may have been a police officer the night he killed Daniel Shaver, but he was not a reasonable one. He just became a killer that night.”

Throughout trial, which began in October, the defense said that Brailsford perceived a threat from Shaver and reacted as he had been trained at the police academy.

“This was no minor event,” said Brailsford’s attorney Mike Piccarreta. “It was a 911 call: man with a gun pointed out a window.”

Piccarreta said that until that day, Brailsford had lived an average, quiet life.

“Go to work, marry, child, military commitment,” he said during closing arguments. He never thought in his “wildest dreams” this was how his day would end.

“The last thing in the world that Mitch Brailsford wanted to do that night was shoot,” he said.

But Charbel said Brailsford violated his training, by assuming Shaver was armed.

“Danny trusted the defendant with his life because he was scared and very vulnerable,” she said. “The defendant made an intentional decision to kill him. … It’s up to you to believe if it was reckless or if it is intentional.”

Arrests and convictions of police officers involved in on-duty shootings are uncommon.

Eighty-two law enforcement officers have been arrested on murder or manslaughter charges resulting from an on-duty shooting in which the officer shot someone to death from 2005 through June 2017, said criminologist Philip Stinson. Of those 82, 30 were convicted of a crime related to the shooting.

While Brailsford was charged only with one count of second-degree murder, the jury has the option to convict him of manslaughter.

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