You never heard about this case. You should have, but you didn’t, and there is only one reason why: there’s no video. Oh, video exists, and according to the lawyer for the dead guy, Christopher Slusser, it “leaves nothing to the imagination.” But it hasn’t been disclosed.
Without the video, the killing of 59-year-old David Kassick by Hummelstown Police Officer Lisa Mearkle, who put two bullets in his back, fades to obscurity.
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.
Putting aside whether “reaching into his waist” is good enough to kill a guy, which tends to be answered by whether you’re of the view that fear of potential threat of possible harm is good enough for a cop to take a life, or there ought to be, you know, an actual threat before you start killing people, Kassick’s killing doesn’t make a dent without a video. For the record, he was unarmed.
But for video.
Like Walter Scott, Kassick was stopped for a traffic infraction, expired stickers this time. Like Walter Scott, Kassick ran. Like Walter Scott, Kassick was shot in the back. Like Walter Scott, Kassick died. And like Walter Scott, the police officer who killed him is being prosecuted for homicide. But unlike Walter Scott, there is no video to be seen, so nobody outside of the locals even knows it happened.
The media wants the video.
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.
The prosecution, wisely perhaps, has decided to be agnostic.
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.
By taking a hands-off position, nobody can later claim that the prosecution did anything to “poison the well” by tainting the jury pool.
So why is this video being withheld from public view?
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.
Well sure, videos are wont to show the secret signs that a guy needed killing.
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.”
Without the video being admitted into the official record, it’s not, the defense argues, subject to disclosure to the media. While the promise of a public trial compels disclosure of the court record, a video that isn’t yet made part of that record isn’t required to be disclosed. At least not for that reason.
Yet, there is a nagging gap in the argument that defies the defense’s argument. This requirement of disclosure of the video as part of the court record is only one basis. The other is that the video was made by Police Officer Mearkle in the course of her official duty as a cop.
It’s not her property. It’s not the property of some third party, to air publicly if he so chooses. It’s government video, made on government equipment by a government official in the performance of her government duty. And what that government video shows isn’t Mearkle’s to conceal. It’s the public’s to see.
Much as the prosecution is sitting in the enviable position of letting the media do its dirty work, seeking access to a video that the prosecution almost certainly wants played on the 6 o’clock news night after night, it’s disingenuous to sit on the sidelines. Sure, taking a position opens the door to defense claims of prejudicing the jury pool, because the video will be devastating and the defense will be at a loss to offer its “expert” view of why a video showing a murder isn’t really a video showing a murder.
But the fact that the media has been denied access to the video in the first place makes no sense. A cop has no right to privacy in the performance of her duties, and there should never have been a dispute as to disclosure in the first place. The video should have been given up immediately, as a record of what a government official did in the performance of her duty.
That the video would have prejudiced the officer is a collateral consequence. Facts have a nasty habit of doing that, prejudicing a cop’s excuse for killing a guy. But without the video, no one will know that Police Officer Mearkle shot Kassick in the back and killed him. And since Mearkle is a cop, we should.
H/T Mike Paar