PHOENIX — A former Arizona police officer was acquitted Thursday of a murder charge in the 2016 fatal shooting of an unarmed man outside his hotel room as officers were responding to a call that someone there was pointing a gun out a window.
The verdict cleared Philip Mitchell Brailsford, 27, of criminal liability in the 2016 death of Daniel Shaver of Granbury, Texas.
The shooting occurred in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa after officers ordered Shaver to exit his hotel room, lay face-down in a hallway and refrain from making sudden movements — or he risked being shot.
Shaver, 26, sobbed as he begged police not to shoot and was ordered to crawl toward officers. As he inched forward, he reached toward the waistband of his shorts. Brailsford said he fired his rifle because he believed Shaver was grabbing a handgun in his waistband.
While no gun was found on Shaver's body, 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. "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.
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Jacques Billeaud, The Associated Press