The widow of an unarmed man killed by an Arizona police officer is accusing the top prosecutor in Phoenix of violating her rights as a victim by stifling her ability to see a video of the shooting that authorities are keeping under wraps.
Attorneys for Laney Sweet are asking the judge in the case to let her see the body-camera video that shows her husband getting shot to death by Mesa Officer Philip Brailsford, who has been charged with murder.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have fought releasing the video, arguing it could taint the jury pool, limit the officer's ability to get a fair trial and bring stress and trauma to the widow. News organizations are also fighting to get the video released on the grounds that it's a matter of public record.
The widow's lawyers argue the video will give her a better understanding of her husband's death and let her see for herself what actually happened.
"She has not asked to be spared the trauma (though it certainly will be traumatic) of watching her husband's killing and its aftermath," wrote William A. Richards, one of her attorneys.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office declined to comment Friday on Sweet's filing.
Police shooting videos have become the focal point of protests around the country over deadly encounters with law enforcement. For example, Chicago officials fought for more than a year to withhold a video showing a teenager getting shot by a police officer, and the court-ordered release of the footage prompted heated protests against Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The controversy over the Arizona shooting gained steam when an audio recording recently surfaced of a private meeting in which Montgomery told Sweet that he couldn't let her see the video if she was going to later describe its contents to news organizations. The prosecutor belittled reporters for seeking the video and said the footage needs to be withheld because media outlets wanted to use the footage to portray the Mesa Police Department as evil.
Two weeks ago, a judge barred release of the video. The Associated Press and other news organizations have since filed court papers asking for the footage to be unsealed, contending that withholding the video violates Arizona's public records law.
Shaver was killed Jan. 18 outside his hotel room after someone told police a man was pointing a rifle out a window. He and a woman were ordered to crawl toward officers in the hallway of the hotel. A tearful Shaver pleaded with officers not to shoot him moments before Brailsford opened fire, according to a police report.
Police said Shaver twice disobeyed their orders, and he was shot after reaching toward his waistband. No weapons were recovered from Shaver's body, but two pellet rifles were found in the hotel room and determined to be related to his pest control job, police said.
Brailsford, 25, has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge. He was fired last month for several policy violations.
Authorities released an extensive account of the shooting last month that included police reports, 911 calls and other records, but they kept the video sealed.
It's rare for the survivors of a fatal shooting to publicly accuse prosecutors of violating their rights as victims, which are enshrined in the Arizona Constitution. Montgomery's office has made victims' rights one of its top priorities.
Sweet claims the officer is receiving preferential treatment from prosecutors.
Sweet has said prosecutors offered a deal to Brailsford to plead guilty to negligent homicide that would carry punishments ranging from probation up to nearly four years in prison. Montgomery's office has disputed that contention without providing specifics.