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Midstate police officer who fatally shot man cleared of all charges

Written by WITF Staff and The Associated Press | Nov 5, 2015 5:54 PM
mearkleafterverdict.jpg

Photo by Ben Allen/witf

Lisa Mearkle stands with her husband (left), and her lawyers (right) after a jury acquitted her of all three charges in the death of 57-year-old David Kassick, who was unarmed when he ran from a traffic stop in February.

(Harrisburg) -- A Dauphin County police officer who shot an unarmed motorist in the back as he lay face down on the ground has been found not guilty of murder and manslaughter.

A jury acquitted Hummelstown Officer Lisa Mearkle today. Mearkle, 37, cried for more than five minutes after the jury read its verdict. 

She shot David Kassick after he fled from a traffic stop in February.

The veteran officer had testified that she believed Kassick had a gun and she feared for her safety.

Video from her stun gun camera shows Mearkle shocking 59-year-old Kassick before shooting him twice as he lay face down in the snow.

In the video, Kassick's hands repeatedly disappeared underneath his body as Mearkle screamed at him to keep them where she could see them.

Mearkle's lawyer Brian Perry says the video helped prove their case.

"I think I said it in my closing, how do you second guess that unless you're in her shoes at that time going through those emotions? There were so many things that led up to it."

Meanwhile, one of Kassick's nephews says the jury should have closely examined how a police officer could feel threated by a 59-year-old man laying in the snow on his stomach.

Prosecutors said the video shows the shooting wasn't justified.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico says he respects the jury's decision, bit adds he would bring a similar case again in the future.

"It's difficult, the public generally and jurors in particular I think give the benefit of the doubt to a police officer. Cops have tough jobs and they're out there protecting us on a daily basis, and I think the general public feels that way."

Marsico has released the video. It's available here.

Deliberations went more than 10 hours over a two-day stretch after testimony before a courtroom packed with reporters, the family 59-year-old David Kassick and law enforcement supporting Mearkle.

The state Fraternal Order of Police released a statement upon the jury announcing its verdict:

"Officer Mearkle is a good police officer who acted in accordance with her duties and the law. Officer Mearkle should be restored to active duty as soon as possible," it read. "We are grateful. .... By the same token, we're disappointed that the Dauphin County District Attorney's office did not come to that same conclusion eight months ago."

The statement went on to criticize Deputy District Attorney Johnny Baer for "demonizing" Mearkle by saying she used "deadly force as punishment for fleeing."

Meanwhile, Hummelstown for Accountability, a group that had criticized Mearkle's actions, said the following:

"Hummelstown for Accountability will continue to push for the best police department possible in our town. We want police officers who are a positive part of the community, and we will push back when officers abuse the rights of citizens.

"May the family of David Kassick, Lisa Mearkle and her family, and our neighbors and friends in Hummelstown find healing as we move beyond this tragic chapter in our town's history."

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