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There's no defending the shooting of Daniel Shaver
Police officers are often attacked without justification and we stick up for them. This time, we can't.
I'm not going to dispute the jury's verdict that Philip Brailsford was not guilty of murder, because for the charge of murder a guilty verdict would require you to prove that Brailsford wanted Shaver dead. I can understand a jury not being convinced of that. I'm having a harder time understanding the not guilty verdict on the manslaughter charge, but at any rate I'm not writing this to take issue with the jury.
My issue is with Brailsford and then-Sgt. Charles Langley. It's Langley you hear barking out the commands. It's Brailsford who fired the weapon and killed Shaver.
What you don't know is exactly what happened that led up to what you see on the video. Cops were called because other guests saw Shaver messing around with a gun in the window. It turned out it was a pellet gun that he used in his pest-control job, but you can't blame the people who called for not knowing that. Given the frequency and seriousness of mass shootings we're experiencing in this country, you can't blame the cops for taking the call seriously and treating the situation like it has that potential.
I have problem with any of that. And it may very well be that Shaver and the female companion you see early in the video were less than cooperative in the moments leading up to where the video starts, which, if true, could explain why Langley seems so agitated. I don't know that this happened but I know that when you see things like this on video there's usually more to the story than you see, and the events leading up to it usually put things in a more understandable context.
So let's stipulate all that.
Having done so, there is simply no way that I - about the most pro-police writer you're going to find anywhere - can justify Brailsford's decision to pull the trigger here, although I have to assign just as much culpability to Langley for the nature of the commands he was giving Shaver. Watch:
Shaver is clearly terrified and disoriented. He appears scared out of his wits that he'll screw up one of the commands and get himself shot, especially when Langley tells him to crawl with his legs still crossed, and he follows the natural and understandable instinct to uncross his legs - obviously fearing for his life when he's told, again, not to uncross his legs.
As I've told you guys before, I was briefly detained by police in 2016 when they were looking for a bank robber and - for reasons too complicated to get into here - they thought I might be their guy. Yeah. It's very important to follow their instructions to the letter. At one point I reflexively lowered my hand to keep my bike handlebars from turning to one side and I was told very pointedly not to do that again.
On that day the Royal Oak police were professional and courteous to me as they questioned me and eliminated me as a suspect. I wrote about it at the time. At no point did I feel afraid or threatened. If Charles Langley and Philip Brailsford had been questioning me, I might be dead.
The jury agreed with the defense attorney's argument that Langley and Brailsford followed their training, and that they should not be held responsible if the training was wrong. OK. I don't know exactly what their training was. But what I don't understand is why, once Shaver was flat on the ground with his face in the carpet and his hands extended, they couldn't have just moved in and cuffed him. Why was it necessary for them to tell him to get up on his knees and crawl toward them with his hands in the air?
The investigation seems to have determined that when Shaver reached down to his waist, he was doing so because his pants were falling down. I understand he was told not to put his hands down for any reason, but that's a reflex, and how are you supposed to crawl on your knees when your pants are falling down?
None of this makes any sense. Shaver is mortified and begging them not to shoot him. He is trying his best to follow instructions that are not that easy to follow when you're being yelled at and threatened. Yes, he was technically in violation of one of the commands when he put his hand at his waist, but an experienced officer should be able to make a distinction between a move that constitutes a threat and what this obviously was.
When I dispute the police brutality narrative, I stipulate that there are bad people in any profession - including the police - but that by and large the police are good, professional people trying to do their best in situations that are often impossible for them. I absolutely believe that today as much as I did at any point in the past. Believing that requires us to acknowledge when an officer does wrong. If I defend the actions of Brailsford and Langley just because it's supposed to be my job to defend all cops, I lose all credibility. Besides, it's not my job to defend all cops. It's only my job to say what's true.
What's true is that Langley was wrong to make this situation as drawn out and complicated as he did, and that Brailsford was wrong for firing his weapon. Shaver was trying his best to do what he was told. He was clearly not a threat.
Langley has retired and moved to the Phillipines. Brailsford was fired two months after the incident after a review of his performance did not turn out well for him.
And Daniel Shaver is dead for no good reason.
America's police officers are brave heroes who deserve our respect and support, and they will always have it here. Charles Langley and Philip Brailsford, at least on this night, were bad cops and it's a good thing they are not cops any longer. It's not reasonable to expect police officers to never make a mistake, but this was one of the worst unforced errors I've ever seen. Let's pray that good cops everywhere learn from this, and that nothing like it ever happens again.
Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!