A Philadelphia municipal court judge on Tuesday dismissed all charges, including murder, against the Philadelphia police officer who fatally shot 27-year-old Eddie Irizarry during a traffic stop last month.
Officer Mark Dial had been charged with murder, voluntary manslaughter and five other counts stemming from the August 14 shooting in Philadelphia. The case was notable in that police initially told reporters Irizarry “lunged at the officers” while outside his vehicle, only to later admit that video disproved that assertion.
The preliminary court hearing Tuesday featured police body-camera footage and surveillance video of the shooting, as well as testimony from Dial’s police partner and from a detective with the officer-involved shootings department.
The partner, officer Michael Morris, testified that he shouted “knife” when they approached Irizarry’s vehicle, and the video shows he also yelled “gun.” He testified he was shouting because he was afraid for his life.
In addition, the court was shown a photo of the knife in Irizarry’s possession and how it was positioned in the car. The defense argued that the knife “has a handle similar to a gun handle” and could have been seen as a gun in the officers’ eyes.
The prosecution argued charges of first-degree murder were appropriate because Dial approached the vehicle “with gun already drawn for a routine traffic stop.”
“There’s no way in this world this man committed murder,” countered Brian McMonagle, Dial’s defense attorney. “And every tragedy is not a crime.”
Judge Wendy L. Pew said that she agreed “100%” with the defense and dismissed the charges.
Fortunato Perri Jr., one of Dial’s defense attorneys, praised the decision.
“The evidence presented by the prosecutor clearly supported Mr. Dial’s reasonable belief that Mr. Irizarry was pointing a firearm at him during the stop,” he said in a statement.
The Philadelphia district attorney’s office said it disagreed with the decision and would move to reinstate the charges. By Tuesday afternoon, the DA refiled all seven charges with the Court of Common Pleas, a higher court, in a move that the office said was the same as an appeal.
Shock and celebration in court
The judge’s decision brought strong reactions from the two sides Tuesday.
The right side of the courtroom behind the defendant was predominantly filled with Dial’s family and police officers, including several in uniform. The left side of the courtroom was filled with Irizarry’s family members, many of whom were wearing shirts with his image.
When the judge announced the dismissal of charges, Dial’s supporters leapt out of their seats and cheered while the left side shouted out in disbelief. There was some cursing directed at the officers’ side as people left the courtroom. One woman on Irizarry’s side had to be consoled as she sobbed while leaving and looked at the judge.
Members of Irizarry’s family said they were upset by the judge’s decision.
“I feel everybody is upset, and sad about it,” said Maria Irizarry, his sister. “There’s a lot of evidence. They say that it is a lack of evidence, which there is not.”
“We are upset, very upset,” said Irizarry’s aunt, Zoraida Garcia. “They said there was a lack of evidence. What more evidence do you want? You can see the video; the video was played in the court. The judge has seen the video. For her to drop all charges, she shouldn’t even be a judge.”
“She dropped all charges, so it’s okay for you to murder someone and get away with it.”
What happened during the traffic stop
According to the initial police statement, two officers saw a man driving erratically, and when the man pulled into a parking spot, they approached the vehicle. Seconds later, one of the officers fatally shot Irizarry.
Police initially told reporters that the officers gave the man multiple commands to drop a weapon while he was outside his vehicle and that Irizarry had lunged at the officers.
However, two days later, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said the shooting happened while Irizarry was inside the vehicle, citing body worn camera footage. The video “made it very clear what we initially reported was not actually what happened,” Outlaw said.
The Philadelphia district attorney charged Dial with murder and other felony crimes earlier this month and released the disturbing body camera footage of the shooting.
“These body-worn camera videos will be introduced into evidence, most likely at both the preliminary hearing and a trial,” Larry Krasner said after releasing the footage. “They are crucial evidence in the case and in many ways, they speak for themselves.”
Outlaw also said she had suspended Dial with the intent to dismiss him at the end of 30 days.
Dial had not entered a plea prior to Tuesday’s hearing.
“We intend to vigorously defend him against the charges,” Perri, one of the defense attorneys, said in a statement. “Despite what has been portrayed to the media, the facts will unmistakably show that Officer Mark Dial was legally justified in discharging his weapon while fearing for his life.”
McMonagle said his client believed Irizarry was pointing a gun at him.
“Video evidence in this case which we’ve uncovered demonstrates completely that officer Dial got out of his car, ordered (Irizarry) to show his hands, and then heard ‘gun,’” McMonagle said.
Garcia, Irizarry’s aunt, said the family believes there may have been a language barrier between Irizarry and the police because he did not speak English well. He had moved from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia seven years ago, she said.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian and Sabrina Souza contributed to this report.