On January 18th, 2016, a young father named Daniel Shaver was staying in a Mesa, Arizona hotel room. After inviting some guest back to his room for drinks - and showing them the pellet guns he used for work - cops were called to the scene. Following a brief encounter with police, Daniel would no longer be living… while the young officer that pulled the trigger prepared for a legal battle of his own.
Daniel Leetin Shaver was born on December 29th, 1989.
He lived in Granbury, Texas, where he had married his teenage sweetheart, Laney Sweet. The two would be married for the better part of a decade; during, which time, they brought two daughters into the world, Natalie and Emery.
Daniel worked as a pest-control worker who often traveled out-of-state; primarily to the southwestern states, such as New Mexico and Arizona (where his family was hoping to move in the near-future)
This work is what brought Daniel out to Mesa, Arizona, in January of 2016. He was working for his father-in-law's company and was temporarily staying at a La Quinta Inn & Suites, just off of U.S. Route 60.
In this hotel - in particular, in the hallway outside of his room, on the fifth floor - his life would be tragically cut short.
This is the story of Daniel Shaver.
On the evening of January 18th, 2016, Daniel Shaver was spending his time indoors. He had ordered a pizza to his hotel room just after sunset, and ended up encountering two other people that were staying in the hotel: a man and woman named Luis Nunez and Monique Portillo. Both were staying in separate rooms at the La Quinta Inn & Suites, and had been brought to the region for a Dollar General training conference.
After encountering these two and seeming to make friends, Daniel invited the two back to his hotel room for some shots. They were kind enough to oblige, and followed the affable Daniel back to his room on the fifth floor of the hotel. There, they began taking shots of Bacardi, and Daniel took the opportunity to show them his guns.
Rather, his pellet guns. You see, Daniel worked for a pest-removal company, and he used the small caliber air rifles to exterminate birds inside grocery stores. They shot pellets, which weren't nearly big enough to be classified as any kind of bullet. However, both Luis Nunez and Monique Portillo - Daniel's two guests - agreed that the gun looked like a military rifle at first glance.
At one point, Daniel asked Luis if he wanted to shoot the rifle, and seemed to take aim out of a nearby window. Luis told him no - specifically telling him that it was "a stupid idea" - and seemed to grow concerned about the environment in the room. He would leave just a short time later, but not before Monique cautioned the two men. According to her later statement, she told the two men:
"Don't be so close to the window. People may get the wrong idea."
Unbeknownst to everyone involved, a couple down in the hotel's hot tub had already gotten the wrong idea. Within minutes, they had informed the front desk that someone seemed to be pointing a rifle at the nearby highway.
This prompted a phone call to 911 from the hotel staff that were working that evening.
Leticia Jimenez, a front-desk employee of the La Quinta Inn & Suites that Daniel Shaver was staying at, responded to allegations of a gun being pointed out of a window.
Leticia followed the concerned guests outside, and identified the room as Daniel Shaver's. She knew this because he had ordered and received a pizza delivery earlier that night, so it was easy to pin the room as being his. Leticia would go upstairs to the fifth floor to ensure that everything was okay, paying a visit to Daniel's room, where - she later recalled - seeing the two men inside holding a gun. She would later state that it looked like they might have been selling it, but we know that wasn't the case.
It was just a short time after this that Luis Nunez - one of Daniel's two guests - decided to leave. He was staying in the same hotel, but decided to go for a drive... perhaps one of the better decisions he could have made that night.
Monique Portillo, the other guest, decided to hang around for a few minutes, but was preparing to call it a night herself. She was gearing up to go back to her room when the phone in Daniel's room rang, and he answered.
On the other end of the line was a police officer, who informed Daniel - and anyone inside - to leave the room slowly. As they did so, they were surprised to see six heavily-armed police officers standing just down the hallway, at least two of which were pointing AR-15 rifles in their direction. Over the next several minutes, Daniel and Monique were warned that any failure to comply with the officers' demands would result in them being shot and/or killed.
Daniel and Monique were crouched down towards the end of the hallway, near the entrance of his hotel room. The police officers responding to this call seemed reticent to approach, because they didn't want to expose themselves to the hotel room door; if there was someone else inside, they might be armed. Their fear was understandable, but their following actions... much less so.
Police officers began barking instructions at the two hotel guests, and Monique was the first to be escorted away from the scene.
Sergeant Charles Langley, one of the commanding officers at the scene, ordered Daniel to cross his legs while he was laying prone on the floor. He then ordered Daniel pull himself "up to a kneeling position" with his legs crossed. As you can imagine, this resulted in Daniel's legs becoming uncrossed, and Sergeant Langley warned him that failure to comply would result in his death.
Daniel began panicking, and put his outstretched arms behind his back. Sergeant Langley yelled at him to keep his hands in the air, reiterating that Daniel would be shot if he did not obey.
Over the next several minutes, the clearly-inebriated Daniel Shaver showed multiple times that he was willing to comply. He tried to abide by the officer's demands, but seemed to be confused and startled by the shouting. And the half-dozen armed men pointing semi-automatic rifles in his direction, of course.
We know that Daniel wasn't in a good head-space at the time of this incident, because - as noted by officers in their later police report - Daniel was "audibly sobbing."
At one point, Daniel tells the men:
"Please don't shoot me."
During this whole encounter, it is unknown what was stopping the officers involved from simply stepping forward and handcuffing Daniel Shaver. Several law enforcement officials have critiqued the way in which they handled the encounter, but... more on that later.
Sergeant Charles Langley and his fellow officers continue to demand Daniel Shaver crawl towards them, all the while giving him conflicting demands: hands in the air, legs crossed, crawl towards us, etc.
Daniel, clearly-intoxicated, struggles to make sense of all of these demands. He continues pleading with officers not to shoot him, but as he tries to comply with their demands, it becomes evident that he is physically not capable of doing so.
It is also worth noting that during this encounter, Daniel is wearing loose-fitting basketball shorts: the kind that slide off easily. While Daniel is crawling down this hotel hallway, this shorts continue to slide off, and as he is crawling on his hands and knees, he makes a move backwards to pull up his shorts.
Officer Philip Brailsford, one of the officers armed with a semi-automatic AR-15 at the end of the hallway, opened fire on Daniel Shaver. Within a little more than a second, he has shot Daniel five times in total, including shots to his face, the back of his head, his back, his chest, and his knee. He would be the only officer - out of six - to open fire.
Daniel was killed instantly. No paramedics would be called to the scene.
Officers stated that Daniel was "reaching towards his waist," but it was determined that he had no weapons on his person. In fact, the only two weapons he had - inside his hotel room, dozens of feet away - were nothing more than pellet guns.
Daniel Shaver's last word was "please."
Following the shooting of Daniel Shaver, the investigation into his death proceeded normally. At least, as normally as you'd expect for a police-related shooting.
The only other guest that was present at the time - Monique Portillo - was escorted outside, where a female officer questioned her briefly. These videos aren't very informative, but I'll make them available on the podcast website (if you wish to watch them).
When the police reports were filed, it was revealed that Daniel had reached for his waistband during a "confrontation" with police. That made this an open-and-shut case, in so many words: more often than not, someone reaching for their waistband poses a lethal threat to officers, so it's okay for them to respond in-kind. Even when it is later found that there is no weapon involved, and the officers may have been overreacting to a man whose pants were falling down.
Back in Texas, Daniel's widow Laney Sweet was informed of Daniel's death, and took her frustrations at becoming a single parent to the internet. During a video, she holds up an urn of Daniel's ashes, informing the rest of the world that that is all that is left of her husband.
Detective Paul Sipe of the Mesa Police Department led the investigation into the shooting death of Daniel Shaver.
Detective Sipe arrived at the crime scene shortly after the shooting had unfolded, and was told that a man had been pointing a rifle out of a fifth floor window. Of course, he and the other officers would learn that this was nothing more than a pellet gun, but officers involved told him that they didn't know that at the time. They assumed it was a regular rifle, which made them cautious about the encounter overall.
Detective Paul Sipe heard from the officers involved that a young officer named Philip Brailsford had been the one to pull the trigger, and had shot Daniel Shaver five times; after he had responded un-cooperatively, according to the police report, and had reached behind his back "in a threatening manner."
However, when Detective Sipe interviewed Monique Portillo - the only other person in that hallway at around the time of the shooting - he realized that the officers involved were not telling him everything. They had omitted (what he called) "vital information" from the police reports, which changed the story dramatically. These details included facts like Daniel Shaver crying and pleading with officers not to shoot him for minutes preceding the actual shooting; as well as the fact that he was visibly drunk, barely able to comprehend the demands being made of him.
This initial suspicion led to Detective Paul Sipe choosing to review the body-cam footage of the incident, which came from Officer Brailsford - the man that pulled the trigger.
This changed everything.
Detective Sipe took this case to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who made the decision to pursue legal action after reviewing the footage for himself. In Montgomery's words, the shooting was "not justified" - based on what he had seen - and he claimed that Officer Philip Brailsford was:
"... manifesting an extreme indifference to human life recklessly causing the death of another."
Philip Brailsford - often referred to as "Mitch," which was his middle name - was an 25-year old officer with the Mesa Police Department. Considered a rising star in the Department, Philip came from a legacy of police service: his father had worked with the Mesa Police Department.
Philip had graduated from Mesa Desert Ridge High School in 2009 with a 3.5 GPA, and then served as an LDS missionary in Ecuador between 2009 and 2011. Following that, he enlisted in the National Guard and enrolled at Mesa Community College; all the while, he was attempting to become an actor. He had several photos and some personal information listed on an acting website, where he attempted to find work in the region, to no avail.
Brailsford ended up being hired by the Mesa Police Department shortly thereafter, and quickly became a star there. He often led his squad in both monthly arrests and traffic stops, and had told his superior - on at least one occasion - that he aimed to arrest at least one person a day. His ultimate goal, he said, was to move up to one of the region's gang units.
During his two-plus years as an officer, Brailsford maintained his expert marksmanship status, and earned himself a reputation as an officer that got things done. Unfortunately, this sometimes came at a cost.
In 2015, Brailsford was investigated for body-slamming a teenager during an arrest at a gas station in 2015. TMZ was able to recover cell phone footage of this incident, which shows then-Officer Brailsford put the teenage suspect in a headlock, spin them around, and then slam them to the ground with his body weight.
Afterwards, Brailsford seems to be the one to calm down the teenager and his friends; all the while, maintaining a firm hold of the handcuffs the teenager was bound in, while the kid stands there with a torn T-shirt.
Alongside three other officers at the scene, Brailsford was investigated by Internal Affairs for "inappropriate amount of force," but they were all later cleared.
That incident would be the only notable check on Philip Brailsford's police career... at least, until the shooting of Daniel Shaver brought him to the forefront of national headlines.
At the time of the Daniel Shaver shooting - January of 2016 - Philip Brailsford had been working for the Mesa Police Department for approximately two years.
It was approximately two months after the shooting - in March of 2016 - that he would be charged with second-degree murder.
Instead of being arrested, he was given a summons to appear in court, where he ultimately pleaded not guilty. If found to have acted irrationally or irresponsibly, he would be facing 25 years in prison - as well as additional time for separate charges of reckless manslaughter.
Philip Brailsford was the first Maricopa County Officer to be criminally charged for an on-duty shooting since 2010, when Richard Chrisman was charged - and later convicted - of manslaughter and assault.
Later that month, on March 21st, Brailsford would be fired by the Mesa Police Department, who cited several policy violations in their decision to terminate his employment. Among them - including unsatisfactory performance - was Brailsford engraving the words "YOU'RE FUCKED" on his rifle dust cover. That phrase - "YOU'RE FUCKED" - was engraved on Brailsford's AR-15, which he would end up using to shoot and kill Daniel Shaver.
Unfortunately, that information - as well as several other important tidbits - would not be released to the jury in the upcoming trial.
During a bond hearing, Daniel Shaver's wife Laney Sweet, begged the judge to consider making Brailsford's release tentative on bail. She pleaded with the judge to consider her husband's life worth some kind of value, and to not give the man who shot and killed him any more leniency after his death.
The trial of Philip Brailsford was originally scheduled to begin in February of 2017, but several hearings were held regarding Brailsford's body camera footage - which would become the most pivotal point of the ensuing trial.
Daniel Shaver's widow, Laney Sweet, and her attorney argued that the body-cam footage should be released - if not publicly, then at least to them and the jury. At that point, she had still not seen the footage, which was being kept guarded prior to Brailsford's trial. This request was initially denied by police, who only agreed to show her the footage... if she agreed not to discuss its contents with the press.
She agreed, and actually recorded a hidden conversation she had with police regarding this footage. I won't include that conversation on this podcast - due to legalities and me not wanting to get sued - but you can find it yourself if you are interested.
A partial portion of the video was released ahead of the trial, in May of 2016, which showed only brief snippets of Daniel's encounter with police officers. It omitted large parts of the incident, as well as footage of the shooting itself.
This was a point argued by both the prosecution and the defense, who wanted to protect Philip Brailsford's rights to a fair trial. Ironically, this was a right that Daniel Shaver himself wasn't given, when he was shot five times in a hotel hallway without being convicted - or charged - with any crime.
In the trial itself, the jury would not be able to see all of the footage showing the shooting of Daniel Shaver. Much like Brailsford's engraved rifle dust cover - which again, read "YOU'RE FUCKED," of which knowledge was withheld from the trial - the jury would only be given an abridged look at the case.
The trial of Philip Brailsford commenced on October 23rd, 2017, with the prosecution and defense interviewing 34 witnesses - including Monique Portillo, the woman that had been with Daniel Shaver just prior to the shooting.
The prosecution faced an uphill battle; not only because of the information being omitted from the jury, but because Arizona state has some unique laws regarding gun rights. Basically, the state would have to disprove that Brailsford was acting in self-defense; having to prove that the killing was intentional. Hence, the charge of second-degree murder.
Susie Charbel, the Deputy County Attorney of Maricopa County, argued in court:
"The state will show the defendant wasn't acting like a reasonable officer, he was acting like a killer.
"[Brailsford] doesn't get a pass because he was wearing a police uniform that night."
Meanwhile, Brailsford's defense seemed to rely on the fact that he was a police officer - and, as such, was afraid for his and his fellow officers' lives when he shot Daniel Shaver five times.
Brailsford himself took the stand, and stated:
"I believed 100 percent that he was reaching for a gun."
At one point, Brailsford would tell the jury:
"If this situation happened exactly as it did that time, I would have done the same thing."
Brailsford's defense seemed to rely upon a couple of prior court cases, including one heard in the U.S. Supreme Court. That case, Graham v. Connor, asked the jurors to put themselves in the shoes of the officer and make a split-second decision to use lethal force. A mistake in either direction could result in someone dying.
That case, which went to the Supreme Court in 1989, ruled that police have the "defense-of-life" standard, which allows them to shoot a suspect if they believe the suspect poses a dangerous threat to others.
In another similar case cited by the defense - Tennesee v. Garner - a cop is allowed to shoot a fleeing suspect if they believe the suspect is trying to flee custody.
As you can imagine, this was turning into a rather contentious case, in which Daniel Shaver's loved ones argued that he wasn't fleeing custody - he was trying to abide by the police officer's ridiculous demands, which seemed to stretch his physical and mental limits while intoxicated.
A rather contentious moment broke out in court when one of Philip Brailsford's attorneys referred to him as "Officer Brailsford," and Laney Sweet (Daniel's widow) yelled out "ex-officer" from the court gallery. This forced an apology from Laney's attorney, but she would later speak to the press about this outburst:
"I think it's important that he knows that he is a former police officer. When you're an officer, you're entitled to privilege and he lost that privilege when he murdered my husband."
On December 7th, 2017, after six weeks of a very contentious trial, the jury gathered in the court to deliver their ruling. The eight-member jury had spent two days deliberating, and were now prepared to deliver their verdict.
Following the resolution of Philip Brailsford's trial for second-degree murder, his body camera footage was released to the rest of the world - this time, unedited.
For the first time, the public got to see the video of Daniel Shaver's shooting in its entirety. The entire video was released to the public approximately three hours after Philip Brailsford was acquitted, and it showed the several minutes of footage that had been omitted from the trial. The world at-large was now able to see the video of Daniel Shaver crawling on the floor of the La Quinta Inn & Suites, intoxicated; begging to not get shot.
As you can imagine, the backlash to this newly-released video was quite severe. While the public had been mostly stuck between a rock and a hard spot - having to side between the police and the victim of another senseless shooting - the full, unedited video made it an easy choice for most.
Thousands of people took to social media - including those from all over the political and social spectrum - and began referring to Daniel Shaver's death as an outright execution.
Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King referred to the body-cam footage of the shooting as one of the worst things he had ever seen. On Facebook, he stated:
"After you watch this video, which is horrible, you will wonder how the officer was not found guilty of a crime."
Omar Baddar, the deputy director of the Arab American Institute, tweeted:
"This is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen, not for the brutality of the shooting itself but for the sadism of the cop who is getting off on humiliating a pliant & obedient suspect before ultimately shooting him."
Popular podcast host Joe Rogan discussed the incident on his show, referring to the death of Daniel Shaver as "murder." He was joined by a chorus of like-minded others - ranging from everyone on the political spectrum from the Young Turks to Ben Shapiro - in criticizing this police overreach.
This body-cam footage would end up being viewed by millions, as it was shared on social media and highlighted on national news broadcasts. It would even spawn some local protests in Mesa, Arizona, just a day or two after Philip Brailsford's acquittal - which were joined by a former Mesa police officer named Scott Sefranka.
In March of 2018 - just a few months after the acquittal of Philip Brailsford - the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it was opening up its own separate investigation into the shooting death of Daniel Shaver.
Sergeant Steve Berry, a spokesman for Mesa Police, told reporters that the DOJ had subpoenda'd the department and had requested all documentation surrounding the Daniel Shaver shooting. He described it as a civil rights investigation, which may entail 4th, 5th, and even 14th amendment issues.
As always, the Department of Justice refused to comment, but many have speculated that they wouldn't have opened up this inquiry for no reason. This investigation may take years - and may not even produce any charges against Philip Brailsford - but may end up enacting a heavy toll against the Mesa Police Department (for how they handled the incident and their training protocols).
In addition, a number of lawsuits have been filed against the city of Mesa, Arizona and the police agencies involved.
Monique Portillo, the only other person in the hallway that evening, filed a suit claiming that her civil rights had been disregarded, as well as police brutality. However, that lawsuit paled in comparison to the one filed by Daniel Shaver's widow, Laney Sweet, which is still working its way through the court system.
The wife of Daniel Shaver is seeking more than $100 million in damages, but has said that she is willing to settle for $75 million - money that will be taken directly from Arizona taxpayers, if approved. She says that she is willing to accept a high price for her husband's death, because she wants to send a message to those responsible: that while they might be free from legal ramifications for pulling the trigger, the cost of their reckless behavior will enact a heavy toll on those that employ them.
Many continue to hope that the death of Daniel Shaver will help enact some change or reform in our criminal justice system. After all his story - as tragic as it was - is a familiar one. I could have chosen countless stories of similar incidents from all across America; in particular, similar stories that happen to young black men, but either don't get the widespread response that Daniel Shaver's did, for a variety of reasons.
In fact, the shooting of Daniel Shaver wasn't even an isolated incident in the region it happened: Mesa, Arizona. The area seems to be a hotbed of police shootings and allegations of police brutality: whether it be the excessive beating of an man named Robert Johnson in May of 2018 - another incident caught on police body cameras - or the 2015 shooting of a mentally ill man named Ivan Krstic. That incident resulted in a $1 million payout for Krstic's family members just a few months ago (which, again, was paid out by Maricopa County taxpayers).
In fact, if you simply Google "Mesa, Arizona police shooting" for any given year, you'll find numerous examples. It seems like every day, there are similar incidents breaking out nation-wide, where men and women are losing their lives for seemingly no reason.
For what it's worth: I acknowledge that police officers have a tough job. I'm well-accustomed to their profession, and one of my close family members is a highly-regarded member of law enforcement in Washington state.
However, I am also incredibly close with people that have jobs that are every bit as dangerous as police officers. And those people seem to be held to much higher standards, especially when it comes to firearms and firearm safety.
So... where do we draw the line? I'm sure you don't want me pontificating for another five minutes, but... I'm tired of reading these stories every single day. There are people dying - for seemingly no reason - and there are countless loved ones being left without any kind of resolution. And... for what, exactly?
If you watch the footage of this incident - which I encourage you do, by the way - you'll see that Daniel Shaver was not a threat to anyone. He was given conflicting demands, all of which would have been impossible to follow - except, perhaps, by the incredibly deft and sure-footed.
Most that have reviewed the footage have agreed that the officers that handled the incident responded incredibly irrationally, and - as local officials agreed - were not qualified to be doing their jobs. They yelled at Daniel before he could answer or respond to any of their questions, and continued to give him conflicting demands: keep his arms behind his back... but to crawl towards him. Keep his hands in the air and his legs crossed... but to crawl towards him. All the while, constantly reminding him that any mistake would result in him being shot and dying.
Is that the kind of behavior you expect from law enforcement officers? The ones meant to keep the peace and protect us from evil?
And for those of you with pro-gun tendencies, just think about this: Arizona is an open carry state. Police were called to the scene because they suspected Daniel had been aiming a gun out of a window - which, we all agree, is a problem. However, if he had a gun on his person - which, again, he did not - he would have been 100% in the right, legally-speaking.
Simply put, it seems like there was nothing Daniel Shaver could have done to change the end of his story, as sad as that is. He was intoxicated in his hotel room, harming no one, and exited his hotel room with his arms up. He tried to comply with the demands being made of him over the span of five minutes, and he was shot five times for the simple mistake of trying to pull up his pants.
To date, the only real ramification from the death of Daniel Shaver is that the man who pulled the trigger - Philip Brailsford - lost his job. He was charged and acquitted of any wrongdoing by a jury of his peers, and I respect that decision. This was a messy situation, and I personally don't blame him for what happened to Daniel Shaver. Others might, but I think this entire ordeal is just a symptom of a larger problem: police that are held to much lower standards than our own military operating overseas, who operate under a "shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later" mentality.
I can only hope that we hear more from Daniel's loved ones in the near-future, because I still consider his story very much unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on February 3rd, 2019
The Pangolins - "Farhamptom"
ROZKOL - "Orders"
Borrtex - "See You Soon"
Kai Engel - "modum"
Mystery Mammal - "Leer"
ROZKOL - "To the Water's Edge"
Koen Daigaku - "Part3"
Kai Engel - "Wake Up!"
How the Night Came - "IV: C6H807"
ROZKOL - “So sorry little girl”
Other music created and composed by Ailsa Traves