I did something the other day that I routinely criticize others for doing. I reacted to a video emotionally, with zero context, zero insight, zero research.
I watched the officer involved shooting of Daniel Shaver, and cringed. I listened to the bizarre commands and watched as a crying drunk man was shot in a hotel hallway while appearing to comply with police orders.
To me, it seemed cut and dry. While I disagree with the author’s conclusion that any officer who is acquitted based on the “shoot or be shot” concept were simply cowards who didn’t ACTUALLY need to shoot the suspect, I reposted this National Review article by David French.
I took his conclusion at face value that the jury’s acquittal of the officer who shot Shaver was a “gross miscarriage of justice.”
I even went back and forth with someone who challenged my thought process. I told this person that I routinely defend law enforcement, but that this execution of a drunken whimpering man was beyond the pale. Big names who generally sit in my ideological camp (Matt Walsh, Buck Sexton, among others) drew the same conclusion.
Still, something nagged at me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had gone too far with far too little context. I realized what that nagging feeling was: I had been lazy.
So, I picked up the phone and called a couple of police officers that I know. One, a 20+ year veteran of law enforcement, and the other a brand new officer fresh out of the academy, both gave me their thoughts from personal experience and tactical standpoints.
Today, I want to share what I found out. Before I do, let me preface this by being VERY clear: I’m not about to pretend that I fully understand what the jury saw, heard or considered. I’m not claiming to know Officer Brailsford’s character. (I’m certainly not a fan of the fact that Officer Brailsford’s rifle was emblazoned with the words “you’re f**cked.”)
I’m not here to say I know decisively what happened or SHOULD have happened.
I’m simply here to offer up perspective that contributes to an intellectually honest assessment of the situation—something that, as I read more and more opinions on the matter, is woefully lacking.
So here’s the gist of my conversations—take it or leave it:
Why were police called in the first place?
Shaver had an air rifle (that also happened to look like a heck of a lot like a REAL gun) pointed out of a hotel window.
(Perspective: a year later, Stephen Paddock also pointed a gun out of the window of a hotel room and killed 59 people, injuring over 500. Pointing guns—real or fake—out of a hotel window is going to prompt swift action.)
The context of why police were called is important to remember, because it helps us understand that police were not simply responding to a drunk dude disturbing the peace; they went into the hotel expecting to confront a potential active shooter. This means adrenaline levels are up—which would explain the fierce orders barked at Shaver and his female companion. (NOTE: I personally, personally don’t like the way the orders were delivered; to me they sounded confusing and erratic. Then again, I’ve never been faced with trying to subdue a possible shooter.)
Why would officers make the two people crawl towards them instead of cuffing them once they were on their knees with guns trained on them?
This was my biggest frustration when I initially saw this video. I thought, “they had the two people in their control. What was the need to humiliate them and force them to crawl, sobbing, towards them?”
I learned that it’s not entirely uncommon to have suspects crawl towards officers in a situation like this. Why? It’s something called the “fatal funnel.” Officers hadn’t cleared Shaver’s hotel room yet—meaning there was no way of knowing if someone else was lurking behind the wall (again, they’re operating on the premise that this is a would-be active shooter situation). Because the hallway between where the officers were standing and where the two people were consisted of the wall to that room, police had no way of knowing that bullets wouldn’t come spraying through that wall at them as they approached the suspects to cuff them. (In case you scoff at bullets coming through the hallway, even brick walls and metal doors can’t stop bullets. The hotel room wall of a La Quinta is likely nothing more than drywall.)
This man was trying to comply with orders. He was even sobbing—is he really a threat?
First, plenty of officers have been harmed by individuals to whom those officers gave the benefit of the doubt (i.e. they’re old, drunk, crying, weak, etc.). As inhumane as it seems to the untrained eye, a drunk blubbering man does not automatically render him safe. This is critical to understanding any interaction with police—especially one where police are given to believe the person is a clear and present danger.
It’s no different than finding out after the fact that someone was unarmed—leading to sensational headlines “Unarmed man shot by police” that tug at heartstrings like mine. How do officers know he’s unarmed if they’ve been told he is, and if he reaches for what very well may be a gun? Could YOU make that millisecond decision?
Shaver was crawling towards police as ordered—and the officer shot him anyway.
David French of the aforementioned National Review article writes: “As the sobbing man crawls, he reaches back towards his pants (perhaps to pull them up) and is immediately shot dead. He had no weapon. He had done nothing wrong. And now he’s dead.”
Two things are wrong with French’s assessment. First, Shaver DID do something wrong. He got drunk to stuck a gun (yes, an air rifle but nevertheless) out of a hotel window. He made a choice to act stupidly and dangerously in a public place. That’s not up for debate—regardless of the fact that we NOW know he didn’t have a real gun and didn’t intend to hurt anyone. Police didn’t know that when they responded. And in a potential active shooter situation, would you feel comfortable if they assumed the man was just goofing around?
Second, French ASSUMES that Shaver reached behind mid-crawl to pull up his pants. Note: Minute 4:26 is where this happens in the video; here’s the screenshot of Shaver’s right arm—indicated with the red arrow—reaching back to his waistband:
I’d like to ask French one simple question: if you’re faced with a potential shooter (again, you’re operating on the knowledge that this man was brandishing a weapon out of a public place), are you going to give that person the benefit of the doubt and just “assume” that they’re pulling up their pants? Are you going to take precious milliseconds to try and figure out if he’s for real?
Yes, Shaver probably was pulling up his sagging pants. But David French (and any other Monday morning quarterback—myself included) can only make that statement after the fact. We were not facing a potential shooter who reached behind towards his waistband in a classic, textbook-looking attempt to grab a gun and shoot the cops. And again, Shaver wasn’t chosen at random to play life-or-death games with police; he made a couple of very stupid decisions and put himself in that position. Period.
Here’s the kicker (and someone I’m seeing relatively few people talk about): Officer Brailsford, the individual who went on trial and was now so famously acquitted, was not the one barking the orders. (See here and here)
That changes quite a bit.
It was in fact Brailsford’s commanding officer, Sgt. Charles Langley, doing all of the talking. Brailsford was providing cover. While the orders themselves—while unsavory and almost Scut Farkus-like—have relatively nothing to do with whether or not the action was correct, when you separate the comments from the person who actually did the shooting … things take on a different color.
So, take all of this as you will. I’m not going to play jury and say they were right—but I’m no longer going to automatically assume that they were wrong.
I still don’t like what happened.
But in a world where sensationalism, emotion and knee-jerk Monday morning quarterbacking often wins the day, I simply want to be intellectually honest.
Mary Ramirez is a full-time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com (a political commentary blog), and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show Worldwide. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree