By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday barred the release of a video that allegedly shows a Hummelstown police officer shooting a traffic-stop suspect to death earlier this year as the man lay face down on the ground.
Judge Deborah Curcillo of Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas said making the video public before trial was “highly unusual” and would jeopardize the ability of Officer Lisa Mearkle to receive a fair trial for criminal homicide.
“This ruling only prevents the public from viewing the video and forming opinions about it prior to a constitutionally protected proceeding,” Curcillo wrote in her 11-page ruling.
“The limitation this Court now places upon release is merely that the video shall not be released prior to trial.”
Mearkle, 36, had pulled over David Kassick, 59, on Feb. 2 for having expired inspection and emissions stickers on his vehicle. Kassick ran, and Mearkle brought him down with her Taser, which was equipped with a camera that captured the video.
Kassick, a convicted heroin dealer, was face down on the ground and trying to remove the Taser prongs when Mearkle allegedly shot him twice in the back with her service revolver, which was in her other hand. He died.
The officer’s attorneys have said she feared Kassick was reaching for a weapon. No weapon was found on his body.
PA Media Group, Reuters, and several other news organizations had asked the Dauphin County District Attorney to release the video. Curcillo held a hearing May 13 to hear arguments for and against release.
All sides in the case had noted the likelihood of intense interest in the video after a series of fatal shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers in the United States. Both Mearkle and Kassick are white.
Cate Barron, vice president of content for PA Media Group, said her newspaper is considering an appeal.
(Reporting by David DeKok; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)