Pennsylvania cop accused of homicide after shooting unarmed 59-year-old man dead
Policeman with gun (Shutterstock)

A police officer in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania faces homicide charges for shooting and killing an unarmed man lying facedown on the ground during a traffic stop, the Associated Press reported.

Investigators said Officer Lisa J. Mearkle shot 59-year-old David Kassick in the back twice during the incident last month. The encounter began when Mearkle tried to pull Kassick over for expired emissions and inspection stickers, only for him to speed off.

When the officer caught up to Kassick near his sister's house, he left his car and tried to escape on foot. Mearkle then used her Taser on Kassick. Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said footage recorded by the officer's weapon appears to show Kassick trying to take the weapon's probes out of his back before she shot him.

The arrest affadavit states, "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. 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."

Mearkle, a 15-year veteran of her department, has argued that she thought Kassick was reaching into his jacket for a gun.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that Mearkle was released from jail on Tuesday on $250,000 bail. Her next court appearance is set for April 20. She is currently charged with criminal homicide, but could face more specific charges as her case continues.

The suspect's attorney, Brian Perry, said at a press conference that Kassick refused to comply with her instructions, and that she "did what she felt she had to do" because she had no way of knowing that he was not reaching for a weapon at the time of his death.

No weapons were found at the scene, but a syringe was found under Kassick's body. Attorneys for his family said in a statement that he battled addiction problems.

"Mr. Kassick is now dead as a result of a traffic stop, a routine traffic stop," said one of the attorneys, Christopher Slusser. "He should not be dead. He should not have died as a result of that traffic stop. And the manner in which he was shot -- you can infer from that what you will."