Pennsylvania officer who shot, killed prone suspect heads to trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 03, 2015 7:02 AM

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - - Opening arguments are expected to begin on Tuesday in the murder trial of a Pennsylvania police officer who shot and killed a suspect last February as he lay face down in the snow, immobilized by a Taser charge.

The shooting death of David Kassick, 59, by Officer Lisa Mearkle, 37, was captured on the video camera in her Taser, police say. Her lawyers successfully fought release of the video prior to her trial, saying it could taint potential jurors.

“We don’t want the nation and the world discussing this video,” said attorney Brian Perry at a hearing in May. “We don’t want the public picking it apart and forming an opinion in the case."

Judge Deborah Curcillo of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas granted his request, saying the media could not see the video before the jury views it. Curcillo is presiding at Mearkle’s murder trial in Harrisburg.

Her arrest for criminal homicide came during a national wave of concern over police shootings of unarmed suspects. Some of those shootings, such as last spring's killing of Walter Scott, a motorist fleeing after a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina, were captured on video.

The Pennsylvania case involved a white officer and white suspect. Mearkle is a veteran of the police department of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, a small town about 10 miles (16 km) east of Harrisburg, the state capital. Kassick, who lived in Hummelstown, served 10 years in federal prison for a heroin sale that resulted in a death.

Police say Kassick was running from a traffic stop by Mearkle near his home and reached the backyard before she used her Taser to bring him to the ground, where he convulsed.

A federal civil suit filed in early October by Kassick’s family alleges that the video shows Mearkle shooting Kassick in the back with her .40 caliber service revolver as he lay face down on the snowy ground.

She waited between four and five seconds, then shot him again in the back, according to the lawsuit filed against Mearkle and various Hummelstown officials. Kassick was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mearkle has said she thought Kassick was trying to remove the Taser prongs from his body so he could get up.

(Editing by Frank McGurty, Barbara Goldberg and Andrew Hay)