She Feared for Her Life as Daniel Shaver Was Shot Dead; Now She's Suing Mesa Police Officers

Monique Portillo, a 33-year-old discount-store manager, found herself in the hallway of the Mesa La Quinta Inn & Suites with red laser dots on her body, thinking she was about to die.

Policemen with assault rifles stood several feet away, one screaming that they might shoot her and the man next to her, Daniel Shaver, a Texas exterminator she'd met about 30 minutes before.

Portillo's only mistake on the evening of January 18, 2016, was going into a hotel room for a drink at the wrong time. If only she had listened to her instincts, she would have been safe in her hotel bed at that moment instead of standing on the verge of death as a target for panicky cops.

The six Mesa officers had just called on Shaver's room phone, demanding the occupants come out. Now that Portillo and Shaver were outside the room, the pair failed to comply immediately with the exacting orders of the officers.

Monique Portillo, who witnessed the 2016 shooting of Daniel Shaver by a Mesa cop, is the latest to sue over the incident.
Monique Portillo, who witnessed the 2016 shooting of Daniel Shaver by a Mesa cop, is the latest to sue over the incident.
Mesa PD

"If you make a mistake, another mistake, there is a very severe possibility you are both going to get shot," Sergeant Charles Langley yelled at them, body-cam videos released last month show.

Portillo dropped her purse and jacket as commanded, then crawled forward on her knees. Viewers could see her pulled forward roughly by one officer.

She was handcuffed behind her back, then made to crouch against a wall. Nobody told her what was going on. She watched in fear and confusion as the fearful officers turned their full attention to Shaver.

The sudden bark of a semiautomatic rifle filled the hall.

Within moments, Shaver was dead. And now Portillo, an innocent bystander, is suing over the trauma she experienced that night.

The officer who pulled the trigger, Philip "Mitch" Brailsford, 25, had been on the force more than two years.

Shaver's death became another scandal of police brutality. As the public later learned, the dust cover of the AR-15 he used to kill Shaver was etched with the words "You're Fucked." He was fired after the incident and charged with murder, but was acquitted in December of all crimes in a trial that made national headlines.

Now, more details about the incident from Portillo's point of view have emerged in a fresh lawsuit she filed last week in Arizona U.S. District Court. Her complaint adds new light to the testimony she gave at Brailsford's trial, and to the accounts by others of the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

Portillo, who declined comment for this article, lived in Silver City, New Mexico, at the time of the shooting, but is originally from Arizona and graduated from Amphitheater High School in Tucson in 2000, social media accounts show.

She found herself at the La Quinta hotel that night two years ago while on a business trip with one of her co-workers at Dollar General, Luis Nunez.

As she and Nunez returned from picking up dinner, Shaver, an affable pest-control technician from Texas, invited them into his room for a shot of Bacardi at about 8:30 p.m.

While inside, Shaver showed off a scoped pellet gun he used to shoot birds for work. Nunez thought it looked like a military rifle. He took the gun as Shaver handed it to him, then handed it back. Shaver asked him if he wanted to shoot it.

"It's a stupid idea," he told the drunk exterminator.

Portillo thought they were both acting like kids playing with a toy.

"Don't be so close to the window," she told them. "People may get the wrong idea."

Sure enough, a guest in an outdoor hot tub below reported seeing someone point a rifle out of an upper-story window.

One of the hotel workers called the police. Front-desk employee Leticia Jimenez walked outside to see which room was causing the problem. Jimenez quickly pegged it as Shaver's — she knew who he was because she'd seen him order and receive delivery of a pizza earlier in the evening.

Jimenez went up to the room without any weapons and noticed Nunez holding a rifle. She assumed the men were selling a rifle. She asked if everything was okay, and Shaver said it was and put the gun back in its case.

At about that time, Nunez said he was leaving and asked Portillo if she wanted to go. She decided to stay a few minutes more.

Nunez stopped at the hotel lobby on the way back to the room and saw the officers arrive. He suspected the cops were there because he and Shaver had been playing with the gun. But he said nothing to the officers and went for a drive.

The group of officers converged on Shaver's room.

In the body-cam videos, it almost seems like Shaver knows he's about to die. He sobbed and cried when it was his turn to crawl. Unable to do precisely what they wanted, he couldn't make the officers happy.

Langley yelled orders at Shaver: "Do not put your hands down for any reason. You think you're going to fall you better fall on your face! Your hands go back into the small of your back or down, we are going to shoot you. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir," Shaver said in a wavering voice.

"Crawl towards me!"

Shaver put his hands out in an exasperated pose. After all, the officer had just told him he'd get shot if he put his hands down. He fell to all fours, but acted confused.

"Crawl towards me!" the cop screamed.

Shaver made a whimpering, pathetic sound. His hand moved toward his waistband, perhaps to pull up his shorts. Brailsford shot him five times with his AR-15.

As cops stepped up to Shaver's silent corpse, Portillo said something to them.

"Stay quiet!" one yelled at her.

She stared down the hallway at the officers and Shaver's body.

Portillo was "crying and screaming with fear and trauma while still handcuffed," after Shaver's killing, her complaint states. "She was shouted at by Brailsford and several other Defendants, who used profanity, telling her to 'shut the fuck up!' and similar remarks, which further traumatized her."

She doesn't seem to be crying and screaming in the body-cam video, though, and none of the officers appears to use profanity toward her. It's possible she heard something that wasn't caught on tape.

As video of the night shows, an officer hustled Portillo into an elevator.

"Let me go," she said softly to him.

"We'll figure that out in a minute," he replied.

"I'm scared," she told him.

The officer took her outside of the lobby and had her sit on a bench. Portillo can be heard hyperventilating, and told the officer she couldn't control her breathing because of what had happened.

The video ends when the officer is replaced by another officer. That officer, identified only as Jane Doe, then used her own handcuffs to chain Portillo to the bench, making the cuffs "tight and painful," according to Portillo's complaint.

The woman officer peppered Portillo with questions about the shooting. She interrupted Portillo frequently as she related the events "to interject her opinion, stating, among other things, that the deceased Daniel Shaver 'could have been a terrorist,' and similar comments," the complaint states. "At no time did [the officer] inform [Portillo] why she was being detained, what crime she was suspected of having committed, or any information as to why she was being treated in this way."

Portillo was moved into a small SUV and forced to sit "still painfully handcuffed, for hours."

A detective approached Portilllo, took her statement, and "apologized profusely" to her. Then another officer led her through the lobby, still in handcuffs, where other guests gawked at her. She "felt extremely humiliated," her complaint says.

Finally, someone took off the cuffs. The hotel assigned her another room. Having witnessed the brutal death of a man, and having potentially narrowly escaped death herself, Portillo managed to get to sleep by 5 a.m.

Portillo is suing eight of the involved Mesa officers in federal court, claiming she was traumatized and treated roughly by their actions.

It's the third civil lawsuit following Shaver's death. Long before the trial started, Brailsford and the city of Mesa faced multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits by Shaver's family members.

Laney Sweet, Shaver's widow and mother of two young girls, has offered to settle her wrongful-death case for $75 million. Shaver's parents seek an unspecified amount in a separate civil complaint. City officials don't want to settle, claiming that Brailsford was at fault and that Shaver's use of alcohol helped result in his death. Both cases are still pending in Arizona U.S. District Court, where Portillo filed her own complaint.

Portillo is alleging violations of her civil rights including unlawful arrest and unlawful use of force, and she seeks punitive damages against Brailsford and seven other Mesa officers who aren't named in her complaint.

She's also suing Mesa police to give back her jacket and purse, which were confiscated the night of Shaver's killing and still haven't been returned.

"This incident has caused a great deal of distress to her," said Portillo's New Mexico attorney, Gene Chavez. "Broken arms and bones heal. Emotions could take a long time and may never fully heal."

Chavez said that although the complaint doesn't name the city of Mesa as a defendant, the city will end up paying if a jury sides with Portillo.

The city should settle, Chavez suggested, implying that officials may want to pay off Portillo to avoid having her bring up the story of Shaver's killing again in open court.

Whatever the amount, Portillo's settlement would likely be much less than what the city would pay to compensate Shaver's grieving family members if it loses in court.

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