Video: The shooting of Daniel Shaver

The headline should be “The murder of Daniel Shaver” but the cop who pulled the trigger was acquitted of that charge yesterday. I’m not even going to preview the clip for you. Just turn up the sound and watch. Radley Balko, who’s spent years tracking cases of police brutality, calls it the worst police shooting he’s ever seen.

Is it reckless to shoot a sobbing, obviously terrified man who’s made every effort to comply with your instructions, right down to which leg should be placed over the other while he’s lying face-down on the ground? Is that a man who’s likely to have a gun tucked away and is waiting for the perfect moment to pull it knowing that there’s an officer with an AR-15 trained on his skull 15 feet away? Shaver does make a “false move” by reaching behind his back a second time while he’s crawling towards the cops (a detective believes he was trying to pull up his shorts as they began to slide down) but he was scared out of his wits and not thinking clearly. He seems to have reached for them absent-mindedly.

It’s often said in defense of the police in these situations that when the pressure is this intense, we can’t expect perfectly rational reactions moment by moment. Well, the pressure was more intense for Shaver since he was the one with a gun pointed at him. If you’re the cop, in control of the interaction and with superior firepower, why make the assumption that Shaver’s going for a gun as he reaches back when everything he’s done to that point contradicts an intent to kill? His companion had just surrendered peacefully too. The police had been told that there might be a gun inside his room but they had every reason to believe Shaver himself was unarmed based on his behavior to that point.

We don’t need to overthink it, though. Simple question: Why didn’t they just have him lie face down, with his hands stretched all the way out in front of him, and cuff him? That would have taken 20 seconds. If he had made a false move as the officer approached him, then they’d have a credible argument for shooting him. But Shaver obviously would have done anything they told him to avoid being shot and yet they dragged this out for five minutes, making it needlessly complicated until he was shot anyway.

The cop, Philip Brailsford, was fired around two months after this happened in January 2016 for “violations of departmental policy, including unsatisfactory performance.” Whether that’s because his superiors watched this body-cam tape, barfed, and moved quickly to boot him before it became public or whether he was guilty of *other* misconduct is unclear. Fun fact about him: At some point he had carved “You’re f***ed” into the dust case of the rifle he used to shoot Shaver. Make of that what you will. It’s also worth noting that the voice you hear barking commands at Shaver isn’t Brailsford’s voice. That’s Sgt. Charles Langley, who maintains an intensity level of 15 on a scale of one to 10 throughout the interaction even though Shaver continues to follow every instruction. If you’re searching for reasons to feel sympathy for Brailsford, you could point to the fact that his own sergeant seemed almost to be looking for excuses to waste Shaver as possibly contributing to Brailsford’s own itchy trigger finger.

Langley’s off the force too now, by the way. He retired and left the country.