Pennsylvania police officer, Lisa J. Mearkle, has been charged with criminal homicide for shooting an unarmed man in the back as he lie face down on the ground following a traffic stop over an expired inspection sticker on February 2nd. Authorities said Mearkle attempted to pull 59-year-old David Kassick over for expired inspection and emissions stickers when he sped away. She caught up to him and stopped him near his sister’s home when he started to flee on foot; she then incapacitated Kassick with a stun gun and then shot him twice in the back with her gun, police say. Pennsylvania law provides for a wide range of ultimate charges under the criminal homicide statutes, from misdemeanor to felony level. Prosecutors can pare the charges as proceedings go forward. For now, Mearkle has been released on $250,000 bail.
The details of the incident were captured on a video camera fashioned to the stun gun apparatus and prosecutors are extolling the evidentiary value of these depictions. Family members of the deceased are condemning the exiguous purpose of the initial stop. Mearkle’s attorney, when asked whether she was remorseful said, “Tough question”. He then asked, “What is she supposed to do, wait for this guy to turn over and grab a gun and shoot”?
COMMENT: “Tough question”- no, she should be remorseful regardless of whether there was any criminal culpability on her part- a human life was taken. This case underscores a broader problem with police officers who use lethal force during a minor traffic stop. While the case may have escalated to a felony flee level once he took off in his automobile, the appropriate thing to do would be to call for backup before she tried to apprehend the man on her own. Moreover, other lives are often placed in danger during a car chase scene and the risks clearly outweigh the value, especially when the purpose of the initial stop was for trivial reasons. Stated differently, the public was not at risk because license stickers were invalid, the danger only emerged once the chase started and this could easily have been prevented by obtaining the plate number and making a safer arrest later. At the end of the day, it appears that the video will provide strong evidence as to whether the officer’s actions were necessary and reasonable.