Two years after he shot an unarmed man and was fired, former police officer Philip “Mitch” Brailsford was rehired by the City of Mesa in order to obtain a special pension. Now, Brailsford is considered medically retired, not fired, according to a Mesa city spokesman.
Brailsford pulled the trigger in the January 2016 police shooting of Daniel Shaver. Officers responded to a La Quinta hotel after they received a call about a man with a rifle pointed out a window. Shaver did have a pellet gun, which he used for work, in his room. However, he was unarmed during an exchange with officers in the hallway.
Brailsford was fired from the police department after the shooting for violations of department policy. He was also charged with murder, but he was later acquitted.
Brailsford appealed his termination. Later in 2018, he signed an agreement with the Mesa City Manager’s Office. The agreement, obtained by ABC15, included that Brailsford would be rehired temporarily to allow him to apply for an accidental disability pension and medical retirement. The terms prevented Brailsford from performing any job duties or getting paid during the period of reemployment.
"He was eligible for retirement benefits, so he applied for them," City Manager Chris Brady said.
The ABC15 Investigators have asked Mesa city officials whether the Brailsford decision fully complies with Arizona law governing the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. It says a member "shall file an application for a disability pension within one year after the date the member ceases to be an employee."
More than two years had passed since Brailsford's termination, so he would not have qualified without the special agreement to be rehired. Mesa city officials claim the whole process was held in "abeyance," or put on hold, while Brailsford stood trial. They also say his application for disability retirement came within a year after his acquittal.
The local five-member PSPRS board, which includes Brady, voted in October 2018 to grant Brailsford an accidental disability pension. physical or mental condition that the local board finds totally and permanently prevents an employee from performing a reasonable range of duties within the employee's job classification and that was incurred in the performance of the employee's duty.
"He [Brailsford] had a PTSD claim prior to his termination, so in fairness, he was given the opportunity to make that appeal to the board," Brady said.
One of Brailsford's attorneys, Michael Piccarreta, told ABC15 the PTSD stemmed from the Shaver shooting incident and the resulting criminal prosecution.
State statute says an officer is eligible for an accidental disability pension, "if the member's employment is terminated by reason of an accidental disability." The disability can be a physical or mental condition "incurred in the performance of the employee's duty."
In Arizona, other officers have received benefits after a PTSD diagnosis. However, Brailsford was originally terminated for violations of Mesa police policies, not for any medical diagnosis. On Tuesday, Mesa City spokesman Steve Wright confirmed that Brailsford is now considered to be "medically retired."
Brailsford, who is 28 years old, receives a monthly check for $2,569.21. He will receive the pension for the rest of his life, unless the local board requests a new medical diagnosis and it shows a recovery from PTSD symptoms.
According to Brailsford's agreement with the city, he will also receive a "neutral reference" if a future employer calls. Through its insurance provider, Mesa will also spend up to $3 million for Brailsford to defend himself and pay settlements in lawsuits related to the Shaver shooting.
Piccarreta declined ABC15's request to interview Brailsford about the pension. He said the former officer just wants to put it all behind him.
"Each employer has their own account within PSPRS and this means that the fiscal impact of Mesa’s local board decision rests with the employer and doesn’t impact any other employers," PSPRS Communications Director Christian Palmer said in an email. Palmer also said PSPRS reviews all local board decisions to award disability benefits, including the application approved for Brailsford. Emails from PSPRS staff, obtained through a public records request, show that staff had questions about Brailsford's application because of the original 2016 termination date; however, he was approved after Brailsford and Mesa city staff made appropriate documentation of his 2018 reemployment.
"The PSPRS Board of Trustees can request a rehearing for local board decisions, but needs a statutory reason to do so," Palmer said. "In this case, the application process was done according to state law, which requires the use of an independent medical examiner."
According to the PSPRS, Brailsford currently receives $2,569 a month, which is nearly $31,000 a year. If he lives to the average life expectancy, 78 years old, he could get 50 years of pension payments. PSPRS has a maximum annual 2 percent cost of living increase. With the yearly maximum COLA, Brailsford could receive more than $2.5 million in pension money in his lifetime.
"I think it's very inappropriate that the city would rehire an officer under that kind of cloud of controversy and that much pain represented in that case to allow him to, in essence, dip into public funds," said Rev. Jarrett Maupin, a community activist who's outspoken on police brutality issues. "It's unthinkable that Mayor Giles and others would go along with that."
The ABC15 Investigators reached out to Mesa Mayor John Giles and every other city council-member for comment today, but a spokeswoman said none would respond on Thursday. She explained the mayor was out of town and the rest of the council was on break.
Mesa also issued a statement in response to this story:
Philip ‘Mitch’ Brailsford was terminated by the Mesa Police Department on March 21, 2016. Mr. Brailsford, through his attorney, requested an appeal of his dismissal on March 22, 2016. The appeal was held in abeyance until the criminal case against Mr. Brailsford was concluded. On December 7, 2017, Mr. Brailsford was acquitted. On August 23, 2018, a settlement agreement between the City of Mesa and Mr. Brailsford allowed him to file for accidental disability and a medical retirement with the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System Local Board. This agreement eliminated the need for a Mesa Personnel Appeals Board hearing. During the time that Mr. Brailsford was making his application for medical retirement, he was not paid and was not assigned any police officer duties. The one-year timeframe to apply for an accidental disability pension began for Mr. Brailsford once the trial concluded. The PSPRS Local Board determined that Mr. Brailsford met the qualifications for medical retirement citing information provided by multiple independent medical professionals. Mr. Brailsford is now medically retired through PSPRS.