PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A judge on Wednesday reinstated all charges, including a murder count, against a former police officer who shot and killed a driver through a rolled-up car window — a confrontation police initially described as the officer shooting the driver after he lunged at him with a knife outside the car.
Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Ransom agreed with prosecutors that the facts of the case should be established at trial.
Former officer Mark Dial, 27, was charged with murder, manslaughter, official oppression and four other counts in the Aug. 14 shooting death of 27-year-old Eddie Irizarry during a traffic stop. Defense lawyers argued the officer could have feared for his life because he thought Irizarry had a gun, and a municipal court judge dismissed the case last month for lack of evidence.
Prosecutors quickly appealed, asking for the charges to be reinstated. The family of Irizarry, who was Hispanic, has said Dial, who is white, took an innocent life and should spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Dial, who bowed his head after Judge Ransom issued her ruling from the bench, was taken into custody without bail.
The defense is “obviously extremely disappointed,” Dial’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said outside court, but he added “we can’t wait to go to trial. The facts here are undeniable. Mark Dial did not commit a crime.”
Irizarry’s aunt, Zoraida Garcia, who ducked out of the courtroom just before the ruling because she feared becoming too emotional, said, “Today, I see that justice is being served. He’s going to jail.”
Another aunt, Ana Cintron, 50, said she was glad the judge decided the case should go to trial.
“I think we needed that as a family, we need that as a community, just to build up the trust, because a lot of the times it’s lost. Something like this really made us think twice,” she said.
Dial and his partner have said they followed Irizarry’s car after it sped past them at high speed in a bike lane and rounded a corner, driving erratically and finally going the wrong way on a residential street before pulling into a parking space. Police body camera footage showed Dial firing a total of six rounds about seven seconds after getting out of a police SUV and walking over to the sedan. The footage also showed Irizarry holding a knife near his right leg.
Dial’s partner, Officer Michael Morris, previously testified he saw the driver holding a knife with a black metal handle that could have looked like a gun and the man started to raise it as Dial approached, and he “screamed that he had a knife,” although he could not remember his exact words. On cross-examination, McMonagle played surveillance video with audio he said sounded like someone saying “gun” and then Morris saying “gun, knife” and Morris agreed.
Assistant District Attorney Lyandra Retacco, however, argued Wednesday that a trial was needed to determine what was said and by whom as well as a number of other facts in the case that are in dispute. She said the defense refers to the case as a “tragedy,” suggesting “something bad happened but nobody did anything wrong — but Mark Dial did something horribly wrong.”
At that earlier hearing, McMonagle had argued Dial was “firing while trying to take cover” in the belief the driver was armed with a gun. He said the charges should never have been filed by District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat and longtime civil rights lawyer who has clashed with police since taking office in 2018.
Police initially claimed Dial shot Irizarry outside the vehicle after he “lunged at” police with a knife, but were forced to backtrack after then-Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said a review of the officers’ body-worn cameras “made it very clear that what we initially reported was not actually what happened.”
Dial, a five-year member of the force, was suspended after officials said he refused to cooperate with investigators. Police said Dial was fired Sept. 18.
After Municipal Judge Wendy Pew dismissed the charges Sept. 27, a wave of flash mob-style ransacking of stores erupted in parts of the city, with masked people carrying out merchandise. Apple, Lululemon and Foot Locker outlets were among the stores targeted in the downtown business corridor.
Thieves targeted other parts of the city as well, ransacking pharmacies, a hair salon, a cellphone store and at least 18 state-run liquor outlets, resulting in the closure of all 48 stores in the city and one in a neighboring suburb.
Scores of people have since been charged with crimes such as burglary, theft, conspiracy and riot in the mayhem, which authorities said was fueled by social media. Those doing the ransacking were not affiliated with earlier protests, Interim Police Commissioner John Stanford has said, calling those responsible “a bunch of criminal opportunists.”
McMonagle told reporters Wednesday he might seek to have the trial moved out of Philadelphia, citing various comments by the mayor and other public officials as evidence Dial might not be able to get a fair trial in the city. The district attorney’s office declined comment “until such time as we are back in court with the defendant.”