- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A video that authorities say shows a police officer fatally shooting an unarmed man in the back remained out of public view Tuesday after a hearing on a request to keep prosecutors from releasing it.

Dauphin County Judge Deborah Curcillo said the motion by lawyers for Hummelstown Police Officer Lisa Mearkle was premature, but she will schedule a hearing if prosecutors say they want to release it.

“The prosecution has indicated it is on the ‘sideline’ on this issue, and accordingly has not indicated a desire or intent to release evidence prior to trial,” Curcillo wrote.

Defense attorney Brian Perry argued the video was likely to affect potential jurors and would present a partial and misleading impression of the events that caused the death of 59-year-old motorist David Kassick in early February.

Mearkle, 36, waived a preliminary hearing on Monday on a charge of criminal homicide, so prosecutors had no opportunity to play the recording in court. Perry said that it has not been admitted as a part of the official record.

“It’s got to be admitted,” Perry said Tuesday. “It wasn’t admitted.”

Police said Mearkle attempted to stop Kassick’s vehicle for expired inspection and emissions stickers on Feb. 2, after which he drove away, reaching high speeds. When he did stop he got out and ran, and Mearkle was able to catch up to him.

She shocked him four times with a stun gun, equipped with a video camera, before shooting him twice in the back, four seconds apart, as he lay face down, police said. Perry argues she acted in self-defense, concerned he was reaching into his waist while she demanded he show his hands.

The case has parallels to the fatal shooting of South Carolina motorist Walter Scott this month. In that incident, which began as a traffic stop for a broken tail light, a witness captured video of the white officer firing eight times as Scott, a black man, ran. While race has been raised as a possible issue in the South Carolina shooting, in the Pennsylvania case both the officer and the unarmed man were white.

Dauphin County prosecutor Johnny Baer told the judge during a brief hearing Tuesday that his office was not advocating for the video’s release but also was not opposed to it. The Associated Press and other news outlets have requested the video.

“I see this as a matter between the news media outlets that have submitted a request to see it, and the court,” Baer told Curcillo.

A lawyer for PA Media Group, which publishes Pennlive.com in Harrisburg, said previous state appeals court decisions support the argument that the tape has become a piece of the judicial record in the case.

The lawyer, Craig Staudenmaier, said it was not enough for the defense to warn that the jury pool might be tainted by the release.

“There’s also a compelling interest of the public in this proceeding,” Staudenmaier said.

Christopher Slusser, a lawyer working for Kassick’s family who has seen the video, said it “leaves nothing to the imagination.”

Mearkle, who attended the court proceeding on Tuesday, is free on bail but is under electronic monitoring. She has been suspended without pay.

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