Laney Sweet, the widow of Daniel Shaver, an unarmed man who was shot five times and killed by a Mesa, Arizona, police officer in January, is seeking to have body camera footage from the shooting publicly released. Sweet previously declined an apparent offer from prosecutors to personally view the footage on the condition that she not discuss what she saw with the media. She recorded and published audio of that conversation on YouTube.
Shaver’s case became national news this week after the release of a harrowing police report describing the circumstances of his death. Shaver was unarmed, crawling, and pleading with officers not to shoot him moments before Mesa police officer Philip Brailsford repeatedly shot him with an AR-15 rifle, according to the report. The report also alleges that another officer repeatedly threatened to shoot Shaver.
Maricopa County prosecutors charged Brailsford with second-degree murder, and the Mesa Police Department fired him this month.
On Tuesday, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge approved a joint motion from county prosecutors and Brailsford’s defense attorney to place a protective order on footage from Brailford’s body camera, effectively barring its release to the public. The order allows for interested parties to file objections within a 10-day period.
Sweet’s lawyers filed a notice of their objection to that motion yesterday evening, a copy of which was provided to Gawker. “The public wants to know what took place. Laney Sweet wants to know what took place. It’s outrageous that the county prosecutor would keep that from the public,” said Ben Meiselas, one of Sweet’s attorneys. Meiselas said that Sweet’s attorneys would file a more detailed objection before the 10-day period ends. Local media outlets including the ABC affiliate KNXV are also petitioning for the video’s release.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office argued in court that “The state’s interest in preserving the integrity of the criminal trial presently outweighs the public’s interest in viewing the Axon body camera videos.”
Police body cameras are a relatively new technology, and widely accepted protocols for what sorts of footage should be publicly released have not yet developed. Still, Meiselas argues, the offer presented to Sweet was inappropriate. “It’s an absurd arrangement. It’s an arrangement that violates the First Amendment right to free speech,” he said. “It’s a shocking thing to even put a victim in that place. If she watches the video, she would live in fear of being prosecuted. What does she say? What does she talk about? Which was a lot of her frustration—‘My husband just died. What am I allowed to talk about if I watch this video? Am I going to be totally silenced?’”
According to the police report, police responded to Shaver’s Mesa hotel room after he and another man briefly pointed a rifle out of his fifth-floor window. Shaver was traveling for work, the report alleges, and had been drinking with a man and a woman he met at the hotel. The woman told police that Shaver said he used the rifle for his job killing wild birds that made their way into Walmart stores. He and the other man were playing with the gun when they pointed it out the window, she said.
According to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, prosecutors are considering a plea deal for Brailsford. Montgomery did not discuss the terms of the deal with the press.
UPDATE (5:08 p.m.): Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, responded with a comment. “Our sole focus is to ensure that justice is done in this case, and the person we feel is responsible for a crime is held accountable, and that we conduct the case in a way that allows us to hold him accountable…Releasing the video publicly would interfere with that process,” he said. “For God’s sake, we charged the guy with second-degree murder. Why is the public and some corners of the media clamoring for us to torpedo the case by destroying this guy’s ability to get a fair trial? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re familiar with what happened in Chicago, right?” Cobb added, referencing the Chicago police shooting of Laquan MacDonald. In that case, the officer involved was not charged with a crime until footage of the shooting was released to the public, over a year after it happened. “They didn’t bring charges, and they wouldn’t release the video. That’s not happening here. We charged this guy,” he said.