PHILADELPHIA—A judge dismissed murder and other charges Tuesday against a Philadelphia police officer who shot and killed a driver through a rolled-up driver’s side window, agreeing with defense attorneys who said the officer could have feared for his life because he thought the driver had a gun.
Police body camera footage showed the driver, 27-year-old Eddie Irizarry, holding a knife near his right leg as police approached his stopped vehicle on a residential street after a short pursuit prompted by erratic driving.
The ruling came after a courtroom, packed with police and relatives of Irizarry attending now-fired Officer Mark Dial’s preliminary hearing, watched about 20 minutes of the video footage. The defense argued that Mr. Dial acted in self-defense when he fired his weapon at close range shortly after noon Aug. 14.
Irizarry’s relatives appeared stunned by Municipal Judge Wendy Pew’s ruling. They said police should not need to fatally shoot someone just because they speed or act irrationally.
“We are going to continue to fight for justice, because that was wrong,” cousin Aracelis Brown, 28, said in an interview after the hearing. Prosecutors vowed a quick appeal to try to reinstate the charges, including the murder count.
Bodycam footage shows Mr. Dial shot Irizarry about seven seconds after getting out of a police SUV and walking over to the sedan. He fired a total of six rounds.
Police previously backtracked from initial statements that said Mr. Dial shot Irizarry outside the vehicle after he “lunged at” police with a knife. Mr. Dial, a five-year member of the force, had been suspended after officials said he refused to cooperate with investigators. Police said Mr. Dial was terminated as of Sept. 18.
Mr. Dial’s partner, Officer Michael 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. Mr. Morris said he was not sure whether they received any information back from police radio.
Mr. Morris testified Tuesday that he saw the driver holding a knife with a black metal handle that could have looked like a gun. He said Irizarry started to raise it as Mr. Dial approached the car, which had stopped while going the wrong way on the one-way street.
“I screamed that he had a knife,” Mr. Morris testified.
Mr. Dial, sitting at the defense table, dabbed his eyes with a tissue as prosecutors played bodycam video of the fatal shooting. District Attorney Larry Krasner had called the videos from Mr. Morris and Mr. Dial “crucial evidence” that spoke for itself.
Defense lawyer Brian McMonagle urged Judge Pew to drop all charges, which included manslaughter, official oppression, and four other counts.
“He is firing while trying to take cover,” Mr. McMonagle said in court, stressing that Mr. Dial acted in self-defense. He said the charges never should have been filed by Mr. Krasner, a longtime civil rights lawyer who has clashed with police since taking office in 2018.
“I agree with you 100 percent,” the judge replied as she threw out the case for a lack of evidence.
Mr. Dial’s bail had been revoked last week after prosecutors argued the charges made him ineligible for release. He was released later Tuesday, Mr. McMonagle said.
Defense lawyers noted that even the detective who had sought a warrant for Mr. Dial’s arrest asked that the top charge be voluntary manslaughter, not murder.
Family attorney Shaka Johnson said he intended to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and the city.