After Daniel Shaver was shot to death by Mesa, AZ police officer, Philip Brailsford, a jury surprised many by acquitting him of unlawful killing. Since the trial outcome was announced, many sources on both sides of the media divide have called for action on how we deal with police brutality, but they all seem to be missing two key points.
As with many videos released to the public without full context, the footage of Daniel Shaver’s dead sparked outrage. The body-cam video clearly shows officer Brailsford shouting instructions to an Shaver. Only later was it determined that Shaver may have had difficulty understanding those orders fully, due to his intoxicated state.
Shaver was not just a guy who got caught in a corridor with a trigger-happy police officer. The police were called after the barrel of a gun was seen pointing through the window of Shaver’s motel room. Have we not heard of a gun barrel coming out a hotel window in the recent past?
The Las Vegas shooting occurred just a few weeks before the trial began. An event that surely weighed heavily on the minds of jurors. Though this incident happened more than a year before, the similarities (motel, gun, window) were striking. Mass shootings and terrorist attacks were a constant law enforcement concern even then.
On a daily basis, officers around the country have to deal with people who are either drunk, on drugs, or who don’t understand English.
Being intoxicated does not legally absolve a citizen of their responsibility for their actions. Being drunk has never been an adequate defense in the United States courts.
In light of recent terror events and mass shootings, officer Brailsford arguably had a right (and duty) to assume that this could be a potential terrorist incident. With that in mind, he had no way of knowing if Shaver was about to detonate an explosive or reach for a weapon? However, NOT reaching to his waist was explicit in the officer’s instructions.
The second point being largely ignored is what happens at the end of the video. This speaks directly to the officer’s frame of mind and concerns. The officers do not stop to check on Shaver, but go straight to the hotel door to see if there are other potential dangers.
Brailsford, at the time, had no way of knowing if this was a terror attack or whether there were other potential shooters involved. His duty and his job was to ensure that there is no further danger to civilian life. He went straight past the body of Shaver to the room still in a high-tension state to see if there were more potentially dangerous people waiting strike.
It is truly sad that a young man lost his life. It is heartbreaking that a family lost a husband and father. It is also sad that an officer of the law was forced into a situation where a split-second decision ended a life. A decision made with the possibility of facing the next mass shooting massacre or a terrorist shooting gallery.
It was right that officer Brailsford was acquitted. It is a shame that this is being classed as anything other than an officer’s attempt to preserve innocent life. It is also a shame that potential terrorist attacks and mass murders must play into the thought processes of law enforcement.
Note: Article updated. Originally I argued that the officer may have had images of the Vegas massacre that influenced his actions. This shooting took place long before Vegas, but the trial occurred mere weeks after Vegas.
Mark is a political writer and journalist who has worked on campaigns for Brexit.