HARRISBURG, Pa. - A police officer was charged Tuesday with criminal homicide after investigators concluded she shot an unarmed motorist in the back as he lay facedown after a traffic stop over an expired inspection sticker.
Authorities accused Hummelstown police Officer Lisa J. Mearkle of shooting David Kassick, 59, twice Feb. 2 without legal justification. She was jailed without bail.
They said Mearkle had attempted to pull over Kassick for expired inspection and emissions stickers before he sped away. She caught up to Kassick near his sister's home, where he got out and ran.
She had incapacitated him with a stun gun and he was on the ground when she shot him twice in the back, police said.
Mearkle, 36, told investigators she shot because he would not show her his hands and she thought he was reaching into his jacket for a gun.
The stun gun recorded portions of the encounter, and District Attorney Ed Marsico called it the strongest evidence in the case.
He said it appeared Kassick had been trying to remove stun-gun probes from his back.
"At the time Officer Mearkle fires both rounds from her pistol, the video clearly depicts Kassick lying on the snow covered lawn with his face toward the ground," according to the arrest affidavit. "Furthermore, at the time the rounds are fired nothing can be seen in either of Kassick's hands, nor does he point or direct anything toward Officer Mearkle."
Marsico said Mearkle performed CPR after the shooting. He called the shooting "a tragedy for all involved."
The DA said a syringe was found near Kassick's body, and he had alcohol and unspecified drugs in his system when he died.
Mearkle's lawyer did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment, nor did Hummelstown Chief Charles M. Dowell.
The police department issued a news release that said it had cooperated fully, calling the matter "an extremely difficult case for all involved."
"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," the news release stated.
The offense of criminal homicide encompasses a range of charges, from misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter to felony first-degree murder. Prosecutors often narrow the charge later in the process, about the time when defendants are formally arraigned.