A Maricopa County jury has acquitted a former Mesa, Ariz., police officer accused of shooting an unarmed exterminator who was crawling on his hands and knees begging not to be shot.
Former officer Philip "Mitch" Brailsford was found not guilty of second-degree murder charges Thursday in the Jan. 18, 2016, shooting of Daniel Shaver, 26, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets.
Mesa police encountered Shaver after responding to a report of a person pointing a rifle from the fifth-story window of a La Quinta Inn & Suites.
Officers went to the fifth floor, took positions outside room No. 502, and called for the occupants to leave the room. A woman and a man, later identified as Shaver, came out and were ordered to get on the floor in the hallway.
They complied, and the woman was instructed to crawl toward the officers, which she did. She was arrested without incident.
Shaver was then ordered to crawl toward the officers. As he moved toward them on his hands and knees, Shaver made a motion with his right hand toward his waistline, police said. Brailsford, 27, fired five shots, killing him.
While no gun was found on Shaver’s body, the AP reported, two pellet rifles related to his pest-control job were later found in his room.
The detective investigating the shooting had agreed Shaver’s movement was similar to reaching for a pistol, but has said it also looked as though Shaver was pulling up his loose-fitting basketball shorts that had fallen down as he was ordered to crawl toward officers.
The investigator noted he did not see anything that would have prevented officers from simply handcuffing Shaver as he was on the floor.
Brailsford’s attorney Michael Piccarreta put an arm around his client after the verdict was read.
“There are no winners in this case, but Mitch Brailsford had to make a split-second decision on a situation that he was trained to recognize as someone drawing a weapon and had one second to react,” Piccarreta said, the AP reported. “He didn’t want to harm Mr. Shaver… The circumstances that night that were presented led him to conclude that he was in danger. Try to make a decision in one second, life or death. It’s pretty hard.”
Piccarreta also said he wasn’t sure his client would be interested in trying to get his police job back.
Shaver’s widow, Laney Sweet, and Shaver’s parents have filed wrongful-death lawsuits against the city of Mesa over the shooting death.
Sweet shook her head “no” after the jury’s decision and said she wasn’t going to answer any questions. Shaver’s parents didn’t respond to reporters’ questions as they left the courtroom.
During his trial testimony, Brailsford described the stress that he faced in responding to the call and his split-second decision to shoot Shaver.
Brailsford told jurors that he was terrified for the safety of officers and a woman who in the hallway. He also said he felt “incredibly sad” for Shaver.
Brailsford served as a Mesa officer for about two years before he was fired for violations of departmental policy, including unsatisfactory performance.
He is one of the few police officers in the U.S. to be charged with murder for shooting someone while on duty.
The shooting occurred as police departments across the U.S. became focal points of protests over deadly encounters with law enforcement.
This story contains material from The Associated Press and the Star-Telegram archives.