Citing a lack of evidence, a judge dismissed all charges against Officer Mark Dial in the fatal shooting last month of Eddie Irizarry.
PHILADELPHIA — A judge dismissed all charges, including a murder count, against a Philadelphia police officer who shot and killed a driver who had a knife, agreeing with defense lawyers who said the officer could have feared for his life.
The municipal judge ruled after a courtroom packed with police and relatives of Eddie Irizarry watched about 20 minutes of harrowing video of the brief traffic stop that led to the death of the 27-year-old. The defense argued that Officer Mark Dial acted in self-defense when he fired his weapon at close range through the rolled-up driver’s side window of Irizarry’s sedan on Aug. 14.
Dial’s partner, Officer Michael Morris, testified that he saw the driver holding a knife with a black metal handle that could have looked like a gun. He said Irizarry was holding the knife against his leg and started to raise it as Dial approached the car, which had stopped the wrong way on a one-way residential street.
“I screamed that he had a knife,” Morris testified.
Defense lawyer Brian McMonagle urged Judge Wendy Pew to drop all charges, which included manslaughter, official oppression and four other counts.
“He is firing while trying to take cover,” McMonagle said in court Tuesday, adding that the charges never should have been filed by District Attorney Larry Krasner.
“I agree with you 100%,” the judge replied as she threw out the case for a lack of evidence.
Krasner’s office vowed to appeal to try to reinstate the charges, including the murder charge.
Irizarry’s relatives appeared stunned and distraught by Pew’s ruling.
“We are going to continue to fight for justice, because that was wrong,” said Aracelis Brown, 28, the victim’s cousin.
Morris said the officers started following Irizarry after he sped past them in a bike lane and rounded a corner. They did not put their lights and sirens on, but sent in information about the vehicle. Morris said he was not sure if they received any information back for police radio.
Police bodycam footage shows Dial shot Irizarry about seven seconds after getting out of a police SUV and walking over to his car. He fired a total of six rounds.
Sitting at the defense table, Dial dabbed his eyes with a tissue as prosecutors played video of the fatal shooting from the officers’ body-worn camera. Krasner had called bodycam videos from Morris and Dial “crucial evidence in the case,” saying they “speak for themselves.”
The police department had to backtrack from initial statements that said Dial shot the driver outside the vehicle after he “lunged at” police with a knife. Dial, a five-year member of the force, had been suspended with the intent to dismiss after officials said he refused to cooperate with investigators.
“You’re sitting here telling me that he was trying to lunge at you. He was not. He was locked in the car. So there was no way that he could get to you guys, and yet you still felt threatened and shot at him,” said Brown, the cousin, who ascribed the judge’s ruling to “favoritism” toward police.
Defense lawyers noted that even the detective who had sought a warrant for Dial’s arrest asked that the top charge be voluntary manslaughter, not murder.
Dial’s bail had been revoked this month after prosecutors argued the charges made him ineligible for release. He was expected to be released sometime Tuesday.