Fault Lines
11 January 2018

Mitch Brailsford Learns About Cameras and Accountability

Mar. 21, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — In 2013, “Mitch” Brailsford[i] was a police recruit in Mesa, Arizona, and was one of thirteen officers being equipped with an Axon body camera. He was one of the first officers so equipped and told the media at the time that it would help him be a better police officer by letting him review his actions and correct his mistakes.

That is BS, although I have no doubt that Mitch believes it. It is common for rookies to believe this, but in practice, video is very rarely[ii] reviewed by patrol officers or their supervisors. There just isn’t time to do so.

One of the reasons for acquiring the body cams given by the administrators back in 2013 was that the test program showed a 75% drop in use of force complaints, with no complaint being sustained. I can see that—dash cam video was the key to the jury clearing me and another officer in a use of force lawsuit; and most of the videos I’ve seen actually clear the officer.[iii]

However, video evidence can work against the officer too.

On January 18, 2016, Mitch Brailsford responded to a man with a gun call at a La Quinta Inn in Mesa. The officers located the room and ordered the man and woman to come out, and to crawl to the officers. The woman did so, but 26-year-old Daniel Sweet, a businessman from Granbury, Texas, apparently didn’t comply with the orders and was shot five times by Mitch.

I’ll note that none of the other officers at the scene apparently felt threatened, as no other officers shot Sweet.

After shooting and killing Sweet, the department did not call his widow until four days later. Oops. She called the hotel, then left message after message for the detectives, none of which were returned. She was told of her husband’s death by the coroner’s office, when, in desperation, she called them.

The Mesa Police call it a communication error. Really? That’s not a communication error, that’s a detective who doesn’t want to talk to the widow.

Naturally, she is pissed, and is demanding that the department release the body cam footage. She’s filed a notice of claim for wrongful death,[iv] in the amount of $35 million.

On March 4, 2016, the Maricopa County Attorney filed second-degree murder charges against Mitch.

Huh? The video must not help Mitch much—prosecutors are very reluctant to charge police officers and tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Mitch has pled not guilty to the charges, but unlike normal murder suspects, he has never been taken into custody and remains free on minimal bond requirements.

I actually agree with this, but not as a special privilege as it is being used here. Bail is supposed to ensure that the defendant appears for trial, and not as punishment. In most cases, murder suspects are given an excessively high bail, more as a form of punishment than anything else. If someone is likely to appear, then they should be given minimal bond. Not because they are an officer, but because they will appear.

The widow is also pissed that Mitch was offered a plea deal if he would plead out to a lesser charge.

She’s going to have to deal with that—Mitch gets the same opportunity to accept a deal to avoid a trial as anyone else.

It also came out that the dust cover of the personal AR-15 used by Mitch had a unique inscription on it.

A dust cover protects the bolt and chamber area from outside contaminants, and pops open when the first round is fired. Mitch decided to add a personal touch to his. Once he fires and the dust cover opens, it reads “You’re f**ked.”

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Yeah Mitch, I would say that you are. What the hell were you thinking when you added this to your rifle? Did you not think it would be relevant as to your mindset?

Mitch is also reportedly in a state of shock that he has been charged with murder, claiming that the police chief and others told him that it was a good shooting.

Mitch, the County Attorney is an elected official, in a nation that is getting more and more fed up with police shootings of unarmed subjects. Did you really think that they wouldn’t throw you under the bus? Especially under these facts? Where no one else perceived the threat that you did? Where you have “You’re f**ked” on your dust cover? Where there is video?

Geez, are you some kind of idiot?

Mesa police have announced that they have “significant concerns” with the shooting and are beginning the process to terminate his employment with the department.

Yeah, Mitch, you may want to rethink that “good shooting” opinion. Somehow I don’t think you’ll get much support for that now.

[i] His actual name is Phillip Brailsford. He goes by “Mitch” because his dad was also a Mesa cop, Phil Brailsford. The elder Brailsford retired as a lieutenant and is now an attorney in the Mesa area.

[ii] With the possible exception of Field Training Officers. There is a tendency for the better FTOs to go over video with their recruits to show the errors of the recruits (and this is probably where Mitch got the view that it would be used as a teaching tool).

[iii] What most people don’t understand is that when police use force legitimately, it is still not pretty. It is fast, violent, and ugly. But even so, it can be justifiable.

[iv] Under Arizona law, a plaintiff has to file a notice of claim as a prelude to filing a lawsuit against a public entity.

13 Comments on this post.

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  • Benjamin Marlin
    22 March 2016 at 9:59 am - Reply

    I mostly agree here. But I’d argue that Brailsford is getting an unfair shake because he’s a police officer.

    If every American had the chance to plead out and get probation, then there wouldn’t be 2 million Americans in jail – most of them imprisoned for crimes far less serious than killing an unarmed man.

    • Greg Prickett
      22 March 2016 at 1:31 pm - Reply

      Most defendants who have no prior criminal record are offered probation. Brailsford is not getting any sort of special deal, nor is he getting an unfair shake.

      He shot the guy 5 times with a rifle at a very close range. Do you doubt that 99% of non-police would be facing criminal charges had they shot someone?

      • Ron
        24 March 2016 at 11:32 am - Reply

        How many civilians, even those with spotless records, would not get substantial time in prison for murdering someone?

        • Greg Prickett
          24 March 2016 at 1:12 pm - Reply

          It happens on a fairly regular basis in Texas, the Kenney case I mentioned below is just one example. See this article where it shows that 120 people were granted probation in Texas for murder between 2000 and 2006.

  • Bob
    22 March 2016 at 11:59 am - Reply

    The real zinger here is that, if Mitch is found guilty of a felony, the City of Mesa will be immune from having to pay any damages for the shooting. See A.R.S. sec. 12-820.05(b).

    • Greg Prickett
      22 March 2016 at 1:32 pm - Reply

      All the more reason for the city and the chief to throw him under the bus.

  • Benjamin
    22 March 2016 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    I misspoke. I meant “unfair” as in, most of us would not be able to plead out and get probation for killing someone. My hypothesis is that he’s getting special treatment because he’s a cop.

    However, I don’t know the legal system. Would most civilians, charged with killing an unarmed, unthreatening man, have the option of pleading out and getting probation?

    • Paul
      22 March 2016 at 3:11 pm - Reply

      Where do you get the idea that Brailsford was offered probation? I don’t see that either in this post or any of the articles linked to in the post. And I don’t think he could be offered probation. A quick search shows Arizona second-degree murder has a mandatory minimum of 10 years. If I read the laws right manslaughter has a mandatory minimum of 3 years if mitigated, and even negligent homicide has a mandatory minimum of 1 year.

    • Greg Prickett
      22 March 2016 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      In a number of states, probation is an appropriate sentence for homicide. In the Janette Tovar case in Texas, Jonathan Kenney was bargained down from murder to aggravated assault and sentenced to 10 years deferred adjudication, which means that he serves 10 years probation, the court then enters a not guilty finding, and he’s done.

      I’m not clear on Arizona law, but a number of states allow probation, and Mitch is entitled to the same consideration as everyone else.

  • Benjamin Marlin
    22 March 2016 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Okay. In that case, I think it’s an awful precedent, but I was wrong about it. The officer should get the same protections & options everyone else gets.

  • Tom H
    22 March 2016 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    I guess it’s Mitch who is fucked now.

  • Tom
    23 March 2016 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    “most of the videos I’ve seen actually clear the officer”

    And, as you well know, that’s because when the video would incriminate the officer the cameras magically malfunction.