PHOENIX (CN) – Opening arguments began Thursday in the trial of a former Mesa, Arizona, police officer accused in the shooting death of an unarmed man, with the jury seeing body-camera footage from the incident.
Philip “Mitch” Brailsford, 27, is charged with second-degree murder in the 2016 shooting death of Daniel Shaver at a La Quinta Inn & Suites in Mesa, 20 miles east of Phoenix.
Shaver was spotted handling a rifle in his hotel room by two guests at the hotel’s jacuzzi. The guests reported it to hotel staff who called 911.
The jury, consisting of three men and eight women, saw body-cam footage taken from the time Brailsford, five other officers and a sergeant arrived outside Shaver’s room.
This was the first time footage of the actual shooting has been shown to the public. A redacted version previously released did not include the moment Brailsford fired at Shaver.
On the video, Sgt. Charles Langley can be heard telling Shaver to lay down on the ground, cross his feet, and put his hands on his head. He was then instructed to crawl in the direction of the officers.
“Young man, listen to my instructions and do not make a mistake,” Langley commanded.
When Shaver crawled toward the officers, Brailsford fired a number of shots from his AR-15 rifle, killing the 26-year-old.
Brailsford says the shooting was justified since he saw Shaver reach toward the waistband of his basketball shorts.
Shaver’s widow, Laney Sweet, erupted in sobs in the courtroom, packed with attorneys, family members and media when the shots rang out. Shaver’s parents, Norma and Grady Shaver, left the courtroom before the video aired and returned after.
“Six armed officers showed up in that hallway. Eighteen and a half minutes from that moment, Daniel Shaver was lying in a pool of his own blood, killed by the hands of this defendant,” prosecutor Susie Charbel told the jury.
“On that night, Daniel Shaver ate pizza and had a couple of drinks. He was looking forward to going home to his wife and his two little girls,” she said.
At times during the confrontation, one officer turned his back to Shaver while another opted for a Taser instead of a firearm. Only Brailsford fired shots, Charbel said.
“This was not an accident. This was an intentional shooting,” she said.
Michael Piccarreta, an attorney for Brailsford, argued the ex-cop only had a second to decide what action he could take.
“One second,” Piccarreta said to the jury. “No reviews, no replays … to decide whether (Shaver) is a killer intending to kill.”
Piccarreta argued that the use of force was proper given what Brailsford was taught at the police academy, and it was Shaver’s actions that caused the shooting.
“He was drinking excessively that night,” Piccarreta said.
Using photographs taken from Shaver’s room and an aerial shot, Piccarreta showed the jury the proximity of the hotel to office buildings and a parking lot.
He said the couple that informed La Quinta staff that they saw a person with a rifle pointed out a hotel room window were fearful.
“We live in America in 2016,” Piccarreta said.
Once receiving the call, it was clear Mesa police took it seriously because it put together a team to handle the situation, he argued.
“Unfortunately for Mitch, he got lethal coverage.”
Earlier Thursday, Maricopa County Superior Judge George Foster granted a motion filed by the defense to prevent the media from recording the body-cam footage shown to the jury after hearing arguments on the matter Wednesday.
Judge Sam Myers, who was previously assigned to the case, issued an order in 2016 to release the footage only in part. Myers found that portions of the video should remain sealed until sentencing or acquittal, and also declined to turn it over to Shaver’s widow.
Piccarreta argued that Myers’ previous order should stand since judges with the state’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court declined a review.
“We have a valid order in effect,” Piccarreta told the court. “He said he wanted to keep this not publicly disseminated to guarantee a fundamental right.”
David Bodney, an attorney representing the Arizona Republic and the Associated Press, countered that the video is a critical piece of evidence that the public should be allowed to see.
“The relief requested by the defendant in this case, your honor, is indeed extraordinary,” Bodney said. “It violates the First Amendment.”
Foster ultimately agreed with Piccarreta, finding there was a legitimate concern in allowing the dissemination of the full video during the trial.
“The publicity would result in the compromise of the rights of the defendant,” Foster ruled from the bench.
The trial is expected to last through November.