Mesa Police Can’t Dodge Shooting Death Claims

(CN) – The city of Mesa and six of its police officers remain on the hook for the shooting death of an unarmed Texas man in a hotel corridor, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow advanced key claims – including those for wrongful death and Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations – in a consolidated lawsuit filed by the wife and parents of 26-year-old Daniel Shaver.

While staying at a La Quinta Inn & Suites in Mesa for work in January 2016, Shaver invited a man and a woman to his room for drinks. While there, the Texas resident showed off an air rifle that he used for his job in pest control.

A couple using the hotel’s Jacuzzi saw Shaver handling the rifle in his room and told hotel staff, who called 911.

Philip Brailsford was one of six Mesa Police Department officers who responded to the call, and one of two assigned to lethal-force detail outside Shaver’s hotel room. They ordered Shaver and his female guest out of the hotel room.

In the hallway, the officers instructed the two to crawl toward them.

The female guest went first. When Shaver crawled toward the officers, Brailsford shot him five times with his AR-15 rifle, killing him.

According to the Shavers’ January 2017 lawsuit, Brailsford shot Shaver when he reached down to pull up his basketball shorts, which had fallen to his knees as he crawled.

None of the other officers fired at Shaver.

Maricopa County prosecutors charged Brailsford with second-degree murder two months after the shooting. The police department fired him shortly thereafter.

Brailsford was acquitted last December.

In his Friday ruling, Snow retained Shaver’s wife Laney Sweet’s claim for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments – which encompass violations of the rights to be free from excessive force and deprivation of life, liberty and property – against the officers in their individual capacities. He dismissed the claims against the officers in their official capacities, finding them duplicative of claims against the city.

Snow refused to dismiss the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims as duplicative of each other, finding it was too early in the litigation to do so.

“Defendant Langley…appears to argue that some of the encounter with Mr. Shaver occurred before Mr. Shaver was officially seized,” Snow wrote in a 22-page ruling. “Factual development is required before determining when the seizure of Mr. Shaver began.”

He added, “The Sweet plaintiffs’ complaint also alleges that defendants failed to properly investigate the scene prior to moving up to Mr. Shaver’s hotel room. If there is pre-seizure conduct by the defendants, that conduct would be analyzed under a Fourteenth Amendment lens.”

Defendant Charles Langley was another Mesa Police officer on the scene the night of the shooting.

Snow denied Langley’s motion to dismiss both the Shavers’ and Sweet’s complaints based on qualified immunity, pointing out that Langley’s supervision of the scene and treatment of Shaver “may have created an environment that heightened the likelihood, if it did not directly result in, defendant Brailsford shooting Mr. Shaver.”

“Plaintiffs have pled and a jury could find that defendant Langley acted with reckless or callous indifference,” Snow concluded.

The Mesa City Attorney’s office did return to a call seeking comment.

Snow dismissed claims for punitive damages, finding that they were not recoverable against public employees acting within the scope of their public duties.

He also dismissed First Amendment, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, and assault and battery claims.

Mark Geragos in Los Angeles represents Sweet, and Sven Budge in Mesa represents the Shavers. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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