Sometimes individual police officers behave in a way that makes you wonder how any jury could side with them.
When one recently acquitted former police officer Phillip Brailsford on the charge of second degree murder for shooting and killing Daniel Shaver, many likely assumed that justice had been done. However, when the police department released Officer Brailsford’s body-cam video of the shooting, people were outraged and perplexed about the verdict.
The majority of our nation’s law officers faithfully execute their duty to protect and serve. Others, not so much. What is troubling about this is the fact that so few police officers are ever convicted of using unnecessary force.
The Mesa Police Shooting
Last year, Shaver — a traveling pest control worker — was in a hotel room when he decided to show other guests the pellet gun that he used in his work. Police arrived at the hotel after receiving a 911 call stating that a man pointed a rifle out of a window.
The police found Shaver alone with a woman in one of the hotel rooms. The victim and the woman had been drinking. When the police told them to come out of the room, they emerged with their hands raised and got on their knees.
Since the 911 call stated that their suspect might have a weapon, the police were already tense. After ordering Shaver out of the room, one of the officers warned him that if he made a mistake “there is a very severe possibility that you’re both going to get shot.” He also said, “I’m not here to be tactical and diplomatic with you. You listen, you obey.”
Over the next five minutes, the officers inundated the sobbing Shaver with a myriad of instructions. First, they ordered him to put both of his hands on his head. Then, they told him to cross his left foot over his right foot. At another point, they told him to spread his hands on the floor.
After giving Shaver additional instructions, the other officer said: “If you move, we’re going to consider that a threat and we are going to deal with it, and you may not survive it.”
The officers instructed the woman to crawl down the hallway and was taken into custody while Shaver remained laying on the ground with his hands on his head. At one point, the suspect let his hands fall to his waistband. The officer shouted, “You do that again, we’re shooting you, do you understand?” Shaver begged, “Please do not shoot me.”
Then, they told Shaver to crawl towards them. The video shows Shaver reaching back while crawling towards to officers — likely to pull up his shorts. Brailsford shot him five times, killing him.
Shaver Did Not Have To Die
Put simply; there was no good reason why Shaver needed to lose his life in this encounter. He was an unarmed man who was given a battery of specific instructions that were not easy for him to follow in his state. The fact that he was inebriated and terrified likely made it more of a challenge to comply with every instruction the police officers shouted.
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told The New York Times that the footage showed that Shaver was not a threat to the officers. “I saw the individual doing everything he could to comply with what the officer was asking,” he said. “And so the officer’s actions then were inexplicable.”
Throughout the encounter, Shaver’s hands can clearly be seen as he attempts to obey the officer’s commands. Not only that, he was prone for most of the altercation. There simply is no good reason why six officers should have failed to apprehend him without using lethal force.
The detective who investigated the shooting stated that Shaver’s movement toward his waistband was “similar to reaching for a pistol,” but also admitted that it appeared that he was trying to pull up his basketball shorts, which were falling down as he crawled. The detective also indicated that he did not see any reason why the officers couldn’t have handcuffed Shaver while he was lying on the floor.
Convictions In Police Brutality Cases Are Rare
Situations in which police officers unjustly kill suspects aren’t as common as the media coverage may suggest, but they do happen. Unfortunately for most of the families of the victims, most of the law enforcement officers involved in these incidents are not convicted.
According to reports, 78 state and local police officers have faced charges for murder or manslaughter resulting from a shooting. Only 27 of these officers have been convicted of a crime — 14 by jury and 13 by a guilty plea. This doesn’t include cases where an officer should be charged, but is not.
So why is the conviction rate for cops so low? Because they’re usually judged by what a reasonable law officer would have done in the situation, not by what they did. This is not necessarily wrong — there are plenty of situations in which police officers might be legitimately concerned about their safety.
However, jurors tend to give police the benefit of the doubt even in cases where lethal force was clearly not necessary. The Philando Castile case comes to mind — a man who proactively informed a police officer that he was carrying a firearm, which he was licensed to carry, was gunned down by an overly anxious police officer.
Unfortunately, there does not appear to be an adequate solution to this problem. It’s easy to simply make this a racial issue, but the fact that Shaver and many other victims are white shows that this isn’t just about race. It’s about government officials overstepping their bounds and snuffing out the lives of individuals who are not deserving of death.
As conservatives, we should not ignore incidents such as these as they represent our government abusing their power. Being on the right means being wary of a government whose agents can act with impunity without fear of repercussions. Yes, the officers who commit these types of activities are only a small percentage of our law enforcement officials, but that doesn’t nullify our duty to speak out against this type of injustice.