Officer Charged With Homicide In Shooting Of Unarmed Man

 David Kassick, hit by a Taser, was on the ground on his stomach. Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle stood behind him, a Taser in one hand, her pistol in the other. Then she shot him twice in the back.

All of it was captured by a video camera on the Taser, said Dauphin County District Attorney Edward Marsico Jr. That video, he said, was one piece of evidence that led him to charge Mearkle, 36, with homicide Tuesday.

"We have reviewed that evidence, which is frankly the best evidence in this case," Marsico said.

Marsico, during a news conference at the Dauphin County Courthouse Tuesday, described portions of the recorded altercation between Mearkle and Kassick, 59.

Mearkle stopped Kassick Feb. 2 while he was driving because of expired inspection tags. Kassick fled the traffic stop and drove to his sister's South Hanover Township home, according to charging documents.

 Kassick ran to the rear of his sister's home on the first block of Grandview Drive, where the altercation with Mearkle took place.  

Marsico said the approximately 1½-minute video began once the officer drew the conducted electrical device, commonly known as a Taser,  and led to the moment of Kassick's death.

Marsico said after being shot with the Taser, Kassick fell to his stomach and was instructed by Mearkle to show his hands and not move. The video depicted Kassick trying to remove the two prongs from the Taser from his back, Marsico said.

Kassick's left hand was briefly not visible, but there was nothing shown that could be construed as a weapon, Marisco said. Mearkle said she thought he was reaching for a gun but was not physically aggressive during the incident, according to charging documents.

Marsico said Kassick was under the influence of alcohol and had drugs with him at the time of the shooting. A hypodermic needle was found at the scene, but no weapons were recovered.

"Mr. Kassick did not display a weapon" or anything like it, said Pennsylvania State Police Troop H Captain Adam Kosheba in regard to the results of the state police investigation of the shooting.

Mearkle shot Kassick twice in his back with her pistol while the Taser device was still activated and recording, Marsico said.

She held her pistol in one hand and the device in the other when she fired the shots, which were just seconds apart, according to the investigation. Mearkle performed life-saving measures on Kassick, but he died at the scene.

Mearkle is set to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon at Magisterial District Justice Lowell Witmer's office. Marisco said Witmer would determine bail for this case.

He said that Mearkle is innocent until proven guilty on criminal homicide charges, but acknowledged the role this case plays in the larger public discussion of police and civilian violence.

"We don't live in a vacuum, we know what's going on in this country [in regards to use of police force]," Marsico said.

Marsico said Mearkle felt threatened in the situation, noting that police must make split-second decisions to protect their own lives. He said the investigation by state police and the charges filed by the District attorney show law enforcement and prosecutors are capable of fairly handling police-involved shootings.

"Today speaks volumes ... where the evidence shows that charges should be filed, we will not hesitate," Marisco said, adding that if an officer is deemed to be justified, charges will not be filed. "When police break the law, we will charge them accordingly."

Marsico said this is the first time a police officer in Dauphin County has been criminally charged in a shooting in his 15 years as district attorney.

Mearkle was cooperative with investigators and gave full and complete statements, Marsico said. He said criminal homicide charges give prosecutors a variety of options in pursuing charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder.

Mearkle had been on administrative desk duty since March 2, pending the district attorney's investigation. Her status with the department is unclear in light of the charges, but officials with the Hummelstown Borough released a statement on the case.

Dale Kassick, David's younger brother, said on Tuesday that the family is saddened by the loss, but is happy something is being done in connection with the case.

"Nothing is going to bring my brother back. He should have never lost his life over a traffic stop," he said.

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