HUMMELSTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – A Hummelstown police officer has been charged with criminal homicide in the fatal shooting of a South Hanover Township man last month.
Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said following a state police investigation, he concluded 36-year-old Lisa Mearkle was not justified in using deadly force when she shot 59-year-old David Kassick.
“When police officers break the law, we will charge them accordingly,” Marsico said at a news conference Tuesday.
Mearkle on Feb. 2 had attempted to stop Kassick for an expired inspection sticker, but Kassick drove to his sister’s home in the 100 block of Grandview Avenue and fled on foot. Mearkle chased him behind the house and used her stun gun, striking Kassick in the back with the probes, Marsico said.
Kassick fell to the snow-covered ground and was lying face down when Mearkle ordered him to show his hands. She continued to use the stun gun while Kassick was on the ground, then shot him twice in the back.
The district attorney said Kassick did not have a gun and never brandished anything that could have been viewed as a potential weapon. He said the only item recovered near Kassick was a syringe.
According to the criminal complaint filed by state police, Kassick was not physically aggressive, had no contact with Mearkle, and was not facing her when she fired the first shot. Mearkle again ordered Kassick to show his hands and was still using the stun gun when she fired the second shot, again while Kassick was facing the ground.
Mearkle told investigators she fired because she believed Kassick was reaching for a gun in his jacket pocket and because he ignored her orders to show his hands. She acknowledged that she did not see him display anything that could have been considered a weapon, the complaint states.
“She did not know what this person had under his belly and he kept going to it time and time again,” her attorney, Brian Perry, said. “She felt that pulling that trigger was the only option she had to protect her life.”
Video from the stun gun’s camera shows that while Kassick’s left hand briefly was not visible to Mearkle, nothing can be seen in either hand, nor does Kassick point anything at the officer at the time the rounds were fired, police said.
“This is a guy on federal parole, who was running from a police officer, who is showing signs of being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, who has been Tased four times, and who keeps going to his waist,” Perry said. “How does she know what he is going to do? Ultimately, she squeezed the trigger, but if he had complied he would be alive today.”
Mearkle performed CPR on Kassick after additional officers arrived, but he died at the scene.
“She did what she could there at the scene,” Marsico said. “I’m sure she’s remorseful.”
Mearkle is a 15-year veteran of the Hummelstown Police Department. She was arraigned before District Judge Lowell Witmer and initially sent to Dauphin County Prison without bail, but was released after bail was modified to $250,000.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled April 20.
Kassick’s family issued the following statement through their attorneys at the Slusser Law Firm:
The Kassick family is extremely pleased that the Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office has elected to pursue homicide charges against the police officer responsible for David’s untimely death. The family would like to thank the Dauphin County district attorney and his staff as well as the Pennsylvania State Police for their hard work and impartial handling of this matter. Their courage in doing what is right and just in criminally charging this police officer is to be commended.
Davis is dead and he should not be. The family would like to respectfully remind the public that while David had his problems and struggled with addiction, he was loved and will be deeply missed. The family is comforted by the knowledge that the individual who caused David’s death will be held to answer for her cowardly and criminal behavior. This prosecution is a substantial step towards closure following a horrifying tragedy.
The following is a statement from the Borough of Hummelstown:
In reference to today’s charging decision, the Hummelstown Borough and its Police Department cooperated fully with the use of force investigation that was spearheaded by the Pennsylvania State Police and District Attorney’s Office.
This was an extremely difficult case for all involved but in the end, we are servants of justice and must now allow the judicial process to conduct a fair and impartial review of the allegations that have been presented. Please keep everyone involved in your thoughts and prayers as this next phase of the process moves forward.
To the residents and business owners of Hummelstown, we want to reaffirm that the men and women of the police department work incredibly hard to serve this community with distinction and will continue to do so.
As this is both a personnel and a criminal matter, we are unable to take questions or make further comment on this issue.
Thank you for your cooperation and support throughout this process.