House of card(inal)s
Buck Sexton: If police can execute an innocent man on video, none of us are safe
Daniel Shaver's killing at the hands of a Mesa, Ariz., police officer is among the most horrific, upsetting and vicious law enforcement-involved shootings ever captured on tape. The details are not in dispute, as the entire encounter was captured on a police body cam with clear audio and visuals.
Yet an Arizona jury recently failed to return a guilty verdict for the cop responsible for Shaver's death. Officer Philip Brailsford shot and killed an innocent man who posed no threat, and although he was terminated from his job, Brailsford walked away a free man. This was an absolute abomination of justice, and it speaks to the growing public misperceptions of police use of force that have often gotten lost in political disputes.
Here are the facts of the case: On Jan. 18, 2016, police in Mesa, Ariz., received a call that a suspect was pointing a rifle out the window of a La Quinta Inn. Police arrived on scene, called up to the room in question and told the occupants (Shaver and a female) to exit the room. Two police officers then encountered Shaver in the hallway. The officers claim Shaver failed to comply, and Officer Brailsford shot him five times.
Below is the video of the incident (graphic content warning):
While it is often the case that police use of force is difficult to judge, this is not one of those cases. It should be clear to everyone: Daniel Shaver was murdered. The video of his death shows the most obvious police abuse of force since former officer Michael Slager executed a fleeing Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., in 2015. Slager, however, got a 20-year sentence for that unjust killing. Appallingly, a jury cleared Officer Brailsford of all criminal charges earlier this month.
What is clear from the video is that the two officers were unnecessarily aggressive and belligerent during the encounter. Here are some of the most telling statement from Sgt. Charles Langley, who was giving the commands while Brailsford had his rifle trained on Shaver:
"Young man, listen to my instructions and do not make a mistake."
"Push yourself up to a kneeling position."
"I said keep your legs crossed."
"Another mistake, there is a very severe possibility that both of you are going to get shot."
"Shut up. I'm not here to be tactful and diplomatic with you."
"You do that again, we're shooting you."
"If you move we are going to consider that a threat."
Note Sgt. Langley's repeated use of the word "mistake." The officers surely knew that Shaver was attempting to comply, but he was terrified, inebriated and wobbly. Shaver was fumbling, not disobeying. The cops also told him not to move, after telling him multiple times to move. Their commands were overly complicated, contradictory and hostile.
Officers Brailsford and Langley turned a routine arrest into a lethal game of "Simon Says," and Shaver paid for it with his life.
The moment of the shooting was equally unjustifiable. Officer Brailsford claimed he shot Shaver because he was concerned that the suspect was reaching into his waistband for a gun. Brailsford even stated in the official police report that he thought Shaver was "trying to gain a position of advantage in order to gain a better firing position on us."
This is ludicrous. It was obvious that Shaver lost his balance. If physical limitations for overly complicated demands are grounds for lethal force, where does it end? Can police execute a suspect for improper form after demanding jumping jacks? What about a weak handstand?
The second time Shaver "made a mistake" - which led police to shoot him at point-blank range - it was to pull his shorts up while crawling. Presumably, Shaver did this because as an American on U.S. soil who had done nothing wrong, he didn't want to crawl down a hallway half-naked and didn't think police would kill him for that.
Shaver tried to grab a shred of dignity in the situation, not a weapon, and a hyper-aggressive cop shot him for it.
We also cannot disregard the obvious terror and panic that Shaver displayed. He begged police "please do not shoot me" and was audibly crying. Everything about the surrounding circumstances showed that Shaver, a husband and father of two young children, just wanted to get out of that hallway with his life. Shaver's tone and body language were in no way threatening. The officers responded to him with delusional ferocity anyway.
That Brailsford was carrying an AR-15 with "You're F---ed" etched into the weapon is a major indicator that he has some very deep-seated issues and should never have been given a badge or a gun.
Simply put, the Shaver shooting was an execution video. This is not about politics. Any moral, law-abiding American should be furious at what happened to Daniel Shaver.
So far the outrage over this is muted, and for that there may be blame on both sides of the political aisle. On the left, because Shaver is a Caucasian male, his murder does not fit the narrative of Black Lives Matter, which is primarily concerned with police brutality against young African-American males. The mainstream media coverage and subsequent activism of this incident has been minimal as a result.
There is also a troubling tendency emerging on the right in cases such as this one. For some, the public defense of police officers in response to (often unfair) accusations of racism and even demonization in the past has become reflexive. Yes, the vast majority of law enforcement officers are honorable and proudly serve their communities, but that does not excuse the rotten few. Some cops, as I was told during my time working with the NYPD, are "perps in uniform."
The Shaver case is well beyond politics. There is nothing conservative, liberal or constitutional about an agent of the state killing an American without just cause. It is deeply wrong regardless of party or ideology. Bernie Sanders voters and the most ardent Trump supporters all should be united in outrage over the death of Daniel Shaver.
Maricopa County District Attorney Bill Montgomery got it right by charging Brailsford with second degree murder. The jury got it very wrong. Shaver should be alive, and his death must be taken as a call to action. Police departments should establish that a suspect always has the ability to show hands and lie down on the ground for arrest. Complicated law enforcement commands that require mobility and balance - under threat of execution - cannot be an acceptable standard.
When good faith efforts to respond to police commands can be met with a hail of bullets, we are all in jeopardy, and the work of all law enforcement officers becomes more difficult and dangerous.
Buck Sexton is a political commentator, national security analyst and host of the nationally syndicated radio program "Buck Sexton with America Now." He is a former CIA officer in the Counterterrorism Center, appears frequently on Fox News Channel and CNN and has been a guest radio show host for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Follow Buck on Twitter @BuckSexton.