He Killed an Unarmed Man, Then Claimed Disability

The latest twist in the police shooting of Daniel Shaver

Police Officer Philip Brailsford in Maricopa County Superior Court during a hearing
Police Officer Philip Brailsford in Maricopa County Superior Court during a hearing (Tom Tingle / The Arizona Republic via AP)

City leaders in Mesa, Arizona, operate a municipality where the interests of police officers are valued more highly than ordinary citizens, including those the police have wronged.

Two years ago, I wrote about Daniel Shaver, an unarmed 26-year-old who in 2016 was shot to death in a hotel hallway while begging for his life. The killer, Mesa Police Officer Philip Brailsford, was put on trial for murder. Jurors were not allowed to know that he had scratched “You’re fucked” into his service weapon. He was acquitted of murder and manslaughter, despite video of as chilling and egregious a police killing as I’ve ever seen.

Brailsford was at least fired from his job as a police officer. But that isn’t how the story ends.

Laney Sweet, Shaver’s widow, wrote about her family’s suffering on Facebook. She related that their 8-year-old daughter was so despondent that she tried to choke herself at school, then declared when taken to a local hospital that “I want to be with Dad.” The family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit. They’ve yet to be compensated by the city or the police department.

As for the cop who pulled the trigger, he was “temporarily rehired by the department so he could apply for a monthly pension,” The Arizona Republic reported this month. In 2018, he was reinstated for 42 days and applied for accidental disability. “An accidental disability is one that occurred while the employee was on the clock and permanently prevents the employee from doing his or her job,” the newspaper explained, adding that the pension in question “totals more than $30,000 annually.” A widowed single mother could use a payout like that.

And the nature of the cop’s disability claim? According to an investigation by the local ABC affiliate, Brailsford said the incident in which he had shot Shaver had given him PTSD. “He’ll get a neutral reference if a future employer calls Mesa,” it reported. “And he’s not willing to talk about how his termination for killing an unarmed man turned into a check for life.”

That’s right: He killed an unarmed man, then claimed associated trauma to get a paycheck for life. In this effort, he was successful.

The people of Mesa could recall the city officials who enabled this miscarriage of justice. Absent that, they should not expect police accountability in the future. Brailsford could sign that pension over to the widow and child of the man he killed. Absent that, it’s hard to see how he achieves redemption.