Scared Cops Are Scary

The acquittal of the officer who killed Daniel Shaver illustrates a double standard in judging self-defense claims.


The jurors who acquitted Philip Brailsford of second-degree murder last week were told to judge him based on "how a reasonable officer would act, versus a regular person with no police training," as The Arizona Republic put it. That distinction was crucial, because a "regular person" would never get away with shooting an unarmed man who was crawling on the floor, sobbing, and begging for his life.

Like other recent cases in which jurors failed to hold police officers accountable for the unnecessary use of deadly force, Brailsford's acquittal shows that cops benefit from a double standard. Unlike ordinary citizens, they can kill with impunity as long as they say they were afraid, whether or not their fear was justified.

Daniel Shaver got drunk and did something stupid. But he did not deserve or need to die for it.

On January 18, 2016, Shaver, who was 26 and lived in Granbury, Texas, was staying at a La Quinta Inn in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, while working on a job for his father-in-law's pest control company. After inviting two other hotel guests to his room for a drink, he showed them an air rifle he used for work, at one point sticking it out a window to demonstrate the scope's range.

Alarmed by the rifle's silhouette, a couple who had been using the hotel's hot tub informed the staff. That's how Brailsford and five other Mesa officers ended up confronting Shaver in a fifth-floor hallway.

The bodycam video of the encounter, which was not publicly released until after the verdict, shows that Shaver, who according to the autopsy had a blood alcohol concentration more than three times the legal threshold for driving under the influence, was confused by the strange and contradictory orders that Sgt. Charles Langley barked at him. Instead of simply handcuffing Shaver as he lay face down with his hands behind his head, under the guns of three officers, Langley inexplicably told the terrified and intoxicated man to crawl toward him.

While crawling, eyes on the floor, Shaver paused and reached toward his waistband, apparently to pull up the athletic shorts that had slipped down as he moved. That is when Brailsford fired five rounds from his AR-15 rifle.

"He could have easily and quickly drawn a weapon down on us and fired without aiming," Brailsford said later. Yet neither of the other two officers who had guns drawn on Shaver perceived the threat that Brailsford did.

One of those officers testified that he would not fire based purely on the "draw stroke" Brailsford thought he saw. He would also consider the context, such as whether a suspect is belligerent and threatening or, like Shaver, compliant, apologetic, and tearful.

Brailsford said he was trained to ignore context. "We're not trained necessarily to pay attention to what a suspect is saying," he testified. "We're supposed to watch their actions and what they do with their hands."

The jury apparently accepted the counterintuitive argument that police, because of their special training, are apt to be less careful with guns than the average citizen would be. A similar dispensation seemed to be at work last June, when Minnesota jurors acquitted former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter after he panicked during a traffic stop and shot a driver who was reaching for his license.

Even more astonishing was the failure of South Carolina jurors to reach a verdict in the trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who shot an unarmed motorist in the back as he ran away. Last May, five months after that mistrial, Slager signed a federal plea agreement in which he admitted the shooting was not justified.

All three of these officers said they were afraid, but that is not enough to justify the use of deadly force. When juries fail to ask whether police have good reason to fear the people they kill, regular people have good reason to fear police.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. I think that’s… four, different comments I just wrote and deleted? I think that’s a record for me.

    1. That’s Reason’s way of telling you to make better comments.

      1. *I* deleted them, not the squirrels. I was trying to find a way to call for killer cops to face the death penalty (*in a court of law*, Reason mods, in a court of law…), while being staid enough to not get banned. Couldn’t quite find one that combined “staid” and “satisfying”, though.

        1. Uh, please tell us, oh special one, where this mysterious delete button is. Because of all the secret buttons I have, delete isn’t one of them.

          1. Mine is next to the “end” key on my keyboard, but I usually use Backspace instead. He said he wrote and deleted posts, not that any were posted to the comments.

          2. My fellow commenter with a Predator reference in his handle is correct, as is to be expected. “Select All/Cut” being my weapon of choice.

        2. The problem is, even if there was a law to get killer cops to face the death penalty, juries in general trust or favor the cops too much. Increasing the severity of the penalty against a cop will only make juries even less likely to convict the cop in question.

          What really needs to happen is a change in societal norms that causes the general public to lose this stupid preferential/deferential treatment of police, firefighters, nurses, and teachers. These four groups and their unions are largely why the state of California is being crushed under the weight of public pensions. They abuse the public’s preferential treatment to the max and have doomed entire future generations of taxpayers to live in poverty.

          But the public is stupid and seems to worship public “servants”–enough to let clearly murderous cops (Slager) off the hook.

          1. Actual constructive policy change wasn’t really what I was going for.

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  2. “The jury apparently accepted the counterintuitive argument that police, because of their special training, are apt to be *less* careful with guns than the average citizen would be.”


    1. Like the homeowner that called the cops over an attempted carjacking and the cop that showed up went straight to the car and started snooping around instead of knocking on the door, the homeowner sees a strange person snooping around his car and goes out to challenge the guy so the cop shot him. The untrained homeowner asks questions first, the trained cop shoots first and asks questions later. Now had the homeowner simply shot the cop on sight, is there really any question that the homeowner would be in prison right now?

      1. Depends. If the homeowner and his lawyer concocted a bullshit story, and if there was no video to contradict it, then he could have gotten away with it. Especially if he borrowed a lawyer from the police union who has done that exact same thing hundreds of times.

        1. The correct answer to this is no. The prosecutor would have correctly argued that the circumstances leading up to the shooting should have led any reasonable person to conclude it was a cop and he should not shoot. The cops on the other hand are judged by a completely different standard. That jury would have been told to forget everything that happened before and after. In the moment of the shooting did the cop have any reason to be afraid? It is bullshit standard that lets cops get away with murder.

          1. Part of the “different standard” lies in the fact that the homeowner didn’t have to go outside to confront a suspicious person whereas police officers have the authority to investigate crimes and suspects. That means an officer’s actions to leave the safety of, say his patrol car, to make contact with a person are viewed differently.

            1. He still should have told the homeowner he was there first. If he got shot, it was on him. I’d acquit the homeowner.

            2. Fuck that. It’s been ruled that police have no specific duty to protect anyone, so you can’t have it both ways.

              One of the fundamental changes needed in police training is that it can be a dangerous job, and police are supposed to be there to protect others. Ergo, this means a cop may just be a bullet catcher some day. I used to be a cop, and this was my mentality: I may not go home that day because I needed to make a sacrifice to protect someone else. Of course, I was very unique in this opinion (as in, only a handful of other cops, all old-timers, agreed with this). Everyone else thought I was stupid, and a liability. It’s a big part of the reason why I couldn’t stand doing the job and quit. Sadly, I became a firefighter/paramedic, and that same shitty law enforcement mentality of “I will always go home at the end of my shift” has started creeping into this field, too.

              1. ^^^^That was in reply to BillCa^^^^

        2. But what instructions would the jury receive?

      2. This is why cops wear distinctive uniforms and most have some kind of stripe on the pants leg.

  3. Brailsford, to celebrate his acquittal, went out and shot 2 dogs.

    1. And coerced an underage prostitute into giving him a freebie.

    2. Do not underestimate the jaw strength of a Bichon Fris?, commander. [/Vader]

      1. Due to the presence of the words “underage” and “Bichon” in such proximity:

  4. There was no fear in the cop’s voice. They were bullies playing a deadly game of “Simon Says”, waiting for any excuse to kill.

    1. I’d bet $20 that the cop was bragging about how he was going to kill someone as he drove to the scene. This was first degree, premeditated murder.

      1. they were probably giving high fives and yelling ready to get some with YEAs all around

        1. The only way it could’ve been better is if it was a black guy they killed!

    2. It was the sergeant doing talking (shouting), not the shooter.

      1. No matter how many times you point this you, the commenters just ignore it. They cite the loud, brash voice as evidence of the cop’s desire to kill. But they have the wrong guy. Doesn’t matter to them that the actual shooter was completely silent.

        1. They were both at fault. And they should probably also charge the sergeant with first degree murder. The shooter should have known better of course, and should have been convicted of second degree murder. But they can still charge the order barking sergeant with capital murder.

    3. YES!!…The SOB Killer Cop kept saying to him, “Do you want to die today?”

    4. Looter politicians sent those killers out to keep leaves and guns out of the hands of slaves, much like Haitian plantation owners whipped slaves for daring to chew a bit of sugar cane (and killed them if they got uppity). The Republican and Democratic parties hired those killers and and wrote the laws demanding exactly what the video showed. The jurors, mesmerized by Nixon-subsidized politicians, protected the murderers by mock trial. Many commenters got exactly the government they voted for. Are you proud?

  5. Brailsford said he was trained to ignore context.

    Police training is secretly codified as law somewhere.

    1. Thank Renquist and the supreme court .Graham v. Connor. This is actually what police are taught.

    2. “”Police training is secretly codified as law somewhere.”‘

      Well, their policy and procedures seem to trump your rights. So…

    3. Seems their training trumps actual laws.

      I think I’ll try that defense strategy.

      “Your Honor. I’m trained to ignore speed limit signs.”

  6. As is mentioned elsewhere, the jurors can ignore the insane ‘instructions’ of the idiot judge, and call murder murder.

    (and then leave town, quick)

    1. How large was the section of the courtroom gallery that was reserved for angry SWAT members? In good glaring distance of the jury box?

      1. they may not have been in uniform but a bunch of bulked up dudes with tats and shaved heads is no longer limited to street gangs but is now the government approved gang called cops

        1. Literally I can no longer tell the difference between the two and I even called the cops on some undercover cops once. it was Hilarity all around with the local sheriffs pointing guns. no one got shot though

  7. One is forced to wonder how much effort a prosecutor–who must count of the good will of police officers–is willing to put into a case to prosecute a police officer.

    The question I would have asked the jury to consider is how is an officer trained to deal with a subject who is obviously confused?

    1. Officers are trained to kill confused people. Confused people do not comply with commands, and the only thing more important than complete compliance is officer safety. Obey or die. Confusion is no excuse.

      1. This is also how we weed out the easily confused from the gene pool. Those cops are doing a public service.

      2. Obey or die was literally what the sergeant screamed.

    2. based on the number of times they’ve killed mentally deficient people I would say it is their number one priority

    3. A county prosecutor working against a local cop is a blatant conflict of interest.

    4. “…who must count of the good will of police officers…”
      It is to laugh. They could give a rat’s ass about the good will of police officers.
      Prosecutors regularly tell cops that they won’t bring cases to trial or that they will have the officer charged for some kind of misconduct.
      You’ve watched too many TV cop shows.

    5. For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: still confused?

  8. Apparently this is all based on the FYTW clause of the Constitution.

    1. Not the Declaration… For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: (sound familiar?)

  9. There was an article yesterday or the day before praising jury nullification in cases involving drug possession. Could jurors in cases of cop-involved shootings be practicing nullification by acquitting obviously guilty cops?

    1. Yup, just like they used to nullify for Klan members, which is why the term “jury nullification” gets a bad rap.

      1. NOT the murdering gun laws and thieving taxes the looter polity enforces at gunpoint. Possession of vegetable matter is to Cbaldcuck the same thing as murdering unarmed citizens from behind a badge of impunity. Courageous speech from behind that bandanna.

  10. Testifying that he us trained ti ignore context should be the most damning piece of evidence against the officer and should open up the entire department to liability.

    1. We’re supposed to watch their actions and what they do with their hands.

      Context is irrelevant, the sobbing mess was looking at the carpet when he moved his hand. Even if he were reaching for a concealed piece the cop would have had a virtual eternity to identify a gun before the guy was able to look up for a target and brought his theoretical weapon to bear – more than enough time for someone other than a coward – or raging sociopath – to identified intent. Murder 1 all day long.

    2. “should open up the entire department to liability”

      Oh, I’m sure the city will pay a fat wrongful death settlement on this case.

      1. And, by city, we mean “The taxpayers who specifically did not do this” while the cop who did gets his job and lavish pension back.

        1. Yes, I figure Brailsford will just hide out for a while then get hired with a PD somewhere else in the state.

          As for the taxpayers footing the bill, that is the problem with qualified immunity. People die all the time from medical mistakes, yet you can sue the doctor personally.

          Qualified immunity will never go away as long as police unions remain. And neither Team will take them on. It’d be political suicide.

          One reform that may work, is that any trail involving police use of force is an automatic change of venue. And you clear the courtroom.

          1. If my information is correct, the sergeant retired and the shooter was subsequently fired for another matter.

        2. Is Comrade damikesc referring to the mock jurors?

    3. Good idea. In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve voted for these past three decades–that, the Second Amendment and an end to prohibition laws. You?

  11. So juries suck. Even without coercion or fear of intimidation, humans are emotional, biased fools easily manipulated by rhetoric, and even swayed by things like height and hairdos. They have little reasoning power and faulty memories (see studies on eye witnesses that get most details and even major characteristics wrong). Why we continue to delude ourselves that juries provide the best path to impartial justice is beyond me.

    And don’t even get me started on voters…

    1. Well, keep in mind as we lament “what the jury did” that a unanimous jury was probably required for a conviction. One or two authoritarian holdouts were likely all that was necessary to acquit (maybe other jurors could have held out for a mistrial, but at a certain point the majority in such a case is likely to just throw up its hands.

      1. You don’t get an acquittal from a hung jury.

    2. OOOOOORRRR, the POS prosecutor just picked the same kind of jury that he usually tries to pick, which is the same kind of jury that the cop’s lawyer wants.

      There’s a reason Dr Phil made a lot of money even before his TV show. Picking a jury can be the highest stakes game in town.

      If the prosecutor wanted justice, he would’ve consulted with a good defense attorney and picked a jury that that defense attorneys like, i.e., poor, black, people that don’t like the police, etc.

  12. We’re supposed to watch their actions and what they do with their hands.

    “Gosh, Officer McScaredypants, if a suspect’s actions and hands are so terrifyingly dangerous, why would you risk the safety of not only you, but your partners, nearby ‘civilians’, and everyone in the city of Mesa by ordering him to engage in actions that required him moving his hands?”

  13. It doesn’t pay to drink anymore. Glad I quit. Reduces the potential to do stupid things by a significant margin.

    1. No one, that I’m aware of, had accused Brailsford of drinking, and no one accuses him of doing something stupid – it was premeditated all the way.

  14. What I still don’t get is why they didn’t have him lie down and then, you know, cuff him. He was outnumbered pretty heavily. They couldn’t have him lie down with his arms outstretched and cuff him?

    And if that drunk dude was “scary”, then police need some serious re-training. Nothing about him looked even remotely threatening and he was moving so slowly than he wasn’t going to just whip up a handgun and off people quickly. Hell, aiming guns isn’t exactly easy, as the number of rounds cops fire off in stand-offs show.

    That dude should be in jail. He didn’t make the idiotic commands, but he shot a guy for, LITERALLY, no reason.

    1. There was probably a lot more to the call the cops responded to than “he pointed the pellet gun out the window, to try out the sights”.
      REASON is renowned for down-playing the scenario to make the cops look bad.
      It seems as though the cops thought this guy was a real threat, not just some drunk yahoo, with a pellet gun.

      1. I’m sure if I, as a non-cop, shot a crying man crawling on the floor begging for his life, everyone would believe my victim was a “real threat.” Right?

  15. Cops are anti-professionals. Their excuse is that they are badly trained and more scared than the average person.

    They are so insulated that I don’t think this is going to change unless there is a sea change from within. I very much doubt any outside influence is going to change it because it’s not just legally baked in, but culturally. if you get outside review boards, they’re going to figure out how to stock them with authority lovers. I admittedly like the idea of cops needed malpractice insurance, but they can still get bailed out and rehired no matter what because of how municipal budgets act like they have infinite resources when it comes to policing already.

    We need law enforcement allies who are willing to face worse penalties than bad cops will ever see to fight this. Those are the only cops in danger of being fired/harassed/worse. Yet I have a hard time not ridiculing the entire profession. I am so, so angry about this shooting and countless others.

    1. I watched a documentary called The Seven Five, which focused on police corruption in New York City in the 1980s. While it dealt with corrupt police helping to run drugs and protecting certain drug gangs against others, it made the point that police officers actually BOND over illegal activity. To them it proves they can trust each other – possibly because if you have the goods on someone and they have the goods on you, they’ll have your back. They can actually justify what they are doing because they see themselves as “the good guys” no matter what. It becomes a very strange culture after awhile, but the only way to fight it is to FIGHT it.

      There are always the boot licking type who defend the police no matter what and believe their hype about being heroes and underappreciated. These types need to be called out for what they are. Gullible and servile. They actually facilitate the corruption that happens as the result of police culture. They need to be reminded of who they work for. When you are in the public’s employ and your job is to protect that public, “going home safely” should NOT be your priority.

  16. “He could have easily and quickly drawn a weapon down on us and fired without aiming,” Brailsford said later.

    Three cops had guns trained on this poor fuck. And this guy was wasted. You are full of shit.

    Brailsford said he was trained to ignore context. “We’re not trained necessarily to pay attention to what a suspect is saying,” he testified. “We’re supposed to watch their actions and what they do with their hands.”

    That’s effed up training that ignores the broader context of any given situation. Also, does your training tell you to start out the encounter by being a loud, intimidating, violent a-hole?

    The standard for shooting a suspect should be 1) actually seeing the suspects weapon and 2) having it leveled at you. Especially when you are SWAT and in full body armor.

    1. If those Rules of Engagement are good enough for deployed soldiers, they are good enough for cops.

    2. It still takes time to pull out a gun and shoot it even without aiming or caring about return fire. These cops can not make the assumption that everyone they run into has a gun loaded and cocked and ready to fire and that they are all Wyatt Earp wannabes. They want a 100% guarantee and the price for this is the death of innocent civilians. They seem to think it’s worth it. I don’t.

    3. “He could have easily and quickly drawn a weapon down on us and fired without aiming”. Sure and a ninja could drop down from the ceiling with a hand grenade. Or monkeys could fly out of my butt. You’re not being paid to go home safe, you’re being paid to protect the citizenry.

  17. That was murder, no other sane way to interpret it.

  18. Don’t want to get shot like a thug? Don’t, uh, crawl on the ground and beg for your life like a thug.

  19. The politically braver Police Chiefs are correct to say “Awful, but legal.” IMHO (a somewhat informed opinion – I have attended courses dealing with apprehending armed subjects) BAD TACTICS BY THE POLICE is the primary cause of the shooting in a majority of instances. The cop moves TO danger, issues UNintelligible or conflicting commands or shouts over another officer, and, given opportunity never moves OUT of danger (while remaining in action). The bad tactics make the shooting inevitable. In this case, for example, WHY the rush. They could have left him on the floor as he was and allowed the cops to calm down and slowly act professionally.

    Adding to bad tactics, is the horrible overblown and unnecessary language by the SUPREME COURT in Graham v. Conner (1989). The police really believe that a reasonable police officer is fundamentally DIFFERENT from a reasonable and prudent person with “police work” in his bag of experiences. Not so or, at least, BAD POLICY. The LAW should treat all who are forced to take life in an identical manner. As applied by the lower state and federal courts, “I was afraid for my life” has become a virtual get out of jail card in the minds of officers. Juries are proving to be totally incapable of differentiating between reasonable and reckless.

    The Congress and state Legislatures have the POWER to fix this but lack the cajones. In the meantime BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID of the excited, systemically scared man in Blue.

  20. I saw the video and this cop was screaming at this young man and threatening to shoot him if he makes any mistakes. This officer should never again be able to work in law enforcement and should have been convicted of murder. This was a horrifying video. I am a strong law and order guy but this was way over the top. The police could have easily walked over to the couple while they were sprawled out on the floor and handcuffed them this idiot made them crawl while constantly berating them. That cop is an ass.

  21. The thing is, he did reach for his pants, and the officer holding the gun wasn’t the one barking orders (if I’m not mistaken).

    I would have probably acquitted the officer if I was a juror. I might have also acquitted the guy who shot Steinle on the murder charges (not involuntary manslaughter). That whole situation could have been handled better, but that wasn’t the issue at trial.

    1. Wrong, this was a clear case of murder. 2nd degree at least, 1st if they could have proved the cops were out to kill somebody that night.

    2. So if I’m walking down the street and I reach for my pants within sight of a cop, am I fair game for getting gunned down?

      1. The only thing that’s fair game for getting gunned down is that huffPo-level of asinine fallacy you just typed up.

    3. It’s a pity the XM sockpuppet wasn’t a judge at Nuremberg. Old Goering could have been sipping Riesling instead of cyanide, and the rest freed with apologies. After all, they were only following orders…

  22. “how a reasonable officer would act, versus a regular person with no police training,”

    Wait, was that supposed to help the cop?? Because a regular person with no police training would never have pulled the trigger in that situation.

  23. One of those officers testified that he would not fire based purely on the “draw stroke” Brailsford thought he saw

    The more I learn about this, the more furious I become.

    1. Me too. This shit keeps escalating not so much because of a “few bad apples” but because of lots of dumbass servile gutless old fucks who serve on juries in Arizona.

  24. If I’m ever in a situation like this I’m just going to lie face down and hold my hands out in front of me and not move. They can bark orders at me all they want, but I’m not moving. If I’m screwed and a cop is going to shoot me anyway, I’m going to make sure that the cop will not be able to claim I was doing something threatening.

    1. Common sense, which is evidently absent from Reason readership would suggest the same. Clearly when facing a bunch of swat-team cops that just got a call about possible public shooter scenario, the most prudent course of action is to your hands down your pants instead of keeping them where they can seem them.

  25. Sounds like Arizona needs some of those ‘frightened cops’ street signs like were posted in Minnesota.

  26. It is odd that none of the commenters visiting a libertarian magazine realize that a US citizen was executed in cold blood by a uniformed officer of The Political State for, precisely, suspicion of having exercised a citizen’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. We have here a Kleptocracy of two looter parties enforcing laws restricting and abridging the Bill of Rights and all freedom of production and trade. Fully half of the sockpuppets missing this point aided and abetted the murder by voting for those looter parties.

  27. The same thing happened in mid-Michigan a year ago. 17 years old and obstinate got the kid killed with 7 bullets in him from a cop that was pissed because the kid flashed his lights at him. His boss said he was justified but really he was just a dick with a badge and has a real ass-kicking coming to him. I always felt terrible when I heard of a policeman being shot while doing his job but somehow I have lost that feeling for this guy.

  28. I’m a former deputy sheriff and see this as a no win situation. Articles like Revisiting the 21′ Rule in Police Magazine teach officers about reaction times. The article tells us it takes on average .58 seconds to experience a threat and determine if it is real, then takes on average .56 to 1.0 seconds to make a response decision and after getting on target it takes .56 of a second to fire. That’s 2.7 seconds…..

    When a police officer goes to work the last thing they want to do is shoot someone, they just want to go home. The problem for a police officer in determining to shoot or not shoot is that they understand these response times. They know when a suspect reaches for something the time it takes to move the item from the waist band to fire position and for the officer to see the muzzle flash is much less than 2.7 seconds. So if someone who has been reported to be armed suddenly reached for something what would you do, wait to see what it was the suspect reached for, wait for the muzzle flash, or shoot?…..-rule.aspx

  29. Clearly it’s the AR-15’s fault.

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