I’ve been a Texas Peace Officer for a little over 13 years. Over the course of that time, I have seen and experienced a wide array of emotions dealing with our profession. We’re a tight-knit community and we should be. It is virtually impossible to understand the position unless you have held it.
One of the problems that affects the law enforcement community is the ever-increasing divide between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve. Some portion of the blame for that divide lies at the feet of the irresponsible media.
However, when it comes to the shooting death of Daniel Shaver of Granbury, Texas, the media is not to blame. We, the law enforcement community, often say that we want bad cops to be held accountable.
The way that law enforcement officers react to this case says a lot about whether they really believe that, or whether it’s just a slogan to which they pay lip service.
By now, most of you are familiar with the basic facts of the case. On Jan. 18, 2016, six Mesa, Arizona, police officers responded to reports at the La Quinta Inn and Suites of a man seen, through a window, with a rifle on the fifth floor. The suspect’s name was Daniel Shaver, 26. The police officer who fatally shot him was named Philip Brailsford. The on-scene SWAT supervisor, Charles Langley, is the officer who can be heard throughout most of the video yelling instructions to Shaver. If you haven’t seen the video footage, you can find it here.
I’m not going to rehash the entire encounter, as there are numerous articles that cover that. What I will do is explain, based on my training and experience, why Brailsford should have been convicted and what he should have been convicted of.
The law enforcement community is applauding the “not guilty” verdict and others are calling Shaver’s death a murder. Based on my understanding, both are incorrect.
I am going to focus on one aspect of the encounter: deviation from training.
Despite the confusing instructions, tone/volume of voice and threats from Langley, that is not the most damning portion of the Shaver/Brailsford encounter.
What matters — at least with respect to Brailsford — is that Brailsford did not respond to the incident in a manner consistent with the training that he should have received (and probably did receive). In essence, what Brailsford was dealing with was a “felony traffic stop.” The only difference is that Brailsford was dealing with a hotel room instead of a vehicle.
However, the change of setting does not change either the training or tactics Brailsford should have employed. As soon as Shaver and his female guest were on the ground, it should have been handled as any other felony traffic stop.
Within a few short moments, it was apparent that both Shaver and the female were — at least at that moment — being cooperative. A few moments after initial contact, the female was handcuffed and secured and no longer a threat to officers. From this point the officers had only one known suspect to deal with: Shaver.
In the video, it is clear that Shaver went to the ground upon command. While this is a good sign of cooperation, it does not mean that there were no other suspects inside the room. Extending the benefit of the doubt to a fellow law enforcement officer, I will proceed under the premise that Brailsford believed there may have been an additional threat that remained inside the room.
Furthermore, while it is obvious that Shaver did not have a rifle in his possession, it is possible that he may have had a concealed weapon in the waistband of his basketball shorts.
It is also noteworthy from a tactical perspective that there was an alcove in the hotel hallway that may have obscured the line of sight to the room that Shaver exited from. Brailsford may not have been able to ascertain if there were additional suspects in the room, or even if the room door was closed or open.
The most compromised position that we, as officers, can put a suspect in is the position that Shaver was instructed to put himself in. Face to the ground, arms outstretched and feet crossed. Langley’s instructions, at least to this point, were text-book.
Once Shaver was in this position, it would have made sense to handcuff and detain Shaver. Remember, the beginning of the video makes clear that there were multiple officers on scene. However, Langley determined that he needed Shaver to be closer before taking action, probably because he was unsure if anyone else remained in the room. Langley may have determined that exposing his co-workers to that alcove was a risk he was not willing to take. Under that assumption, the most tactical approach may have been to have Shaver move closer to the officers.
Langley instructed Shaver to rise to his knees. Shaver complied. It is at this moment in the video that Shaver placed his hands behind his back, anticipating the next command. While this was not what Shaver was instructed to do, he certainly shows that he was intending to comply. Once warned, Shaver placed his hands in the air, as instructed.
At this point, the encounter should have proceeded as a felony traffic stop, tactically. Shaver is on his knees with his hands in the air. It is apparent that Brailsford and Langley still viewed Shaver as a threat.
It’s worth noting that of the six officers who responded that night, only Brailsford fired his weapon. None of the other officers present viewed him as enough of a threat to fire on him. Still, steps could have been taken to make sure that even Brailsford did not need to fear that Shaver had a weapon.
During a felony traffic stop, officers attempt to remove any possibility of a weapon by taking a few simple steps. One of the most important steps is to, from a distance, verify that there is no weapon concealed in the waistband of the suspect. This step was overlooked by Brailsford and Langley. Langley should have instructed Shaver to place his hands on the back of his head, with fingers interlaced. Langley should then have instructed Shaver to grab the back of his shirt and pull it up, exposing his waistband. Langley should next have instructed Shaver to, from the kneeling position, with shirt raised, turn around.
This would have enabled Langley, Brailsford, and their fellow officers to all but rule out the possibility of a concealed weapon in the waistband. This is not armchair quarterbacking. This is what we officers are trained to do. When we deviate from training, we are reckless. When we are reckless, we make mistakes. When we make mistakes due to recklessness, we are accountable under the law.
Had Brailsford and Langley adhered to their training, they could have determined that there was no weapon to pull from the waistband. When Shaver made that movement toward his waistband, Brailsford could have been confident that Shaver was simply pulling up his basketball shorts, which he was.
Langley certainly bears some responsibility for how things turned out that evening. It is possible that the words and demeanor of Langley influenced the state of mind of Brailsford, a relatively inexperienced officer. It is also possible that had Brailsford spoken up and reminded Langley of the need to see the waistband, that Daniel Shaver would still be alive today. Though Langley should be held accountable for his actions, I do not believe them to be criminal.
I don’t believe that Brailsford intended to kill Shaver, though he certainly knew that firing his weapon at Shaver could cause death. I do believe that, due to deviation from training, Brailsford is guilty of manslaughter and should have been convicted of that charge.
I contend that these are the types of men and women that we, as law enforcement officers, need to speak out against. These are the types of actions that lend credibility to a biased media machine that wishes to portray all cops as bad, and constantly tries to push the narrative that bad cops never get punished. When officers commit crimes they need to go to jail; it’s not complicated.