By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday considered publicly releasing a graphic video that may shed light on the fatal shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer during an attempted traffic stop in February.
Officer Lisa Mearkle, 36, a veteran of the Hummelstown Police Department, is charged with criminal homicide in the death of David Kassick, 59, on February 2.
Mearkle had pulled him over for expired inspection and emissions stickers, and he ran. She initially brought him down with her Taser, which was equipped with a camera that captured the video.
At a hearing before Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Deborah Curcillo, all sides 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.
Mearkle’s lawyers argued against releasing the video, saying the surrounding publicity would make it difficult to select an impartial jury at trial.
“We don’t want the nation and the world discussing this video,” said attorney Brian Perry. “We don’t want the public picking it apart and forming an opinion on the case.”
Kassick 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, court records showed.
Her attorneys have said she feared Kassick was reaching for a weapon. No weapon was found on his body.
“If you’re going to release the video, then release everything, including Mr. Kassick’s prison record,” ” Perry told the judge.
Kassick served 10 years in federal prison for selling heroin that resulted in a death, according to federal court records. He was released in 2011.
Assistant District Attorney Johnny Baer said the prosecution is neutral on making the video public.
But Craig Staudenmaier, a lawyer representing PA Media Group, the parent company of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, argued the video is a “court record” that was relied upon by the Pennsylvania State Police in charging Mearkle with murder and should be released.
He said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled in similar cases that unsubstantiated fears of jury taint cannot block release of court records. The public has a legitimate interest in a video showing the officer’s performance of her duties, he also said.
The judge’s ruling on the video was expected this week.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Lambert)