PENN TOWNSHIP, Pa. - A 12-year-old girl is dead after a Pennsylvania State Constable accidentally shot her while trying to enforce an eviction order.
Pennsylvania State Constable Clarke Steele was serving an eviction notice to Donald Meyer, 57, in Penn Township on Monday when Meyer slid a .223-caliber rifle into view and pointed it at Steele's chest, state police said.
"Constable Steele, who was in uniform, quickly removed his .40 caliber duty weapon from its holster and fired a single round striking the suspect in his upper left arm," state police said.
The bullet passed through Meyer's arm, striking his 12-year-old daughter, who was standing behind him, in the chest. Family members identified her to CNN affiliate WHTM as Ciera Meyer.
“[Meyer] put the constable in a situation where he had to make a decision to use deadly force, and he did, and now we have this tragedy,” Trooper Rob Hicks of the Pennsylvania State Police told KFOR sister station WPMT.
Constable 'heartsick' over the tragedy
“[Steele] is heartsick and heartbroken over the outcome,” Bill Stoeffler, of the Commonwealth Constables Association and a colleague and friend of Steele, told WPMT Tuesday night. “[It’s] every constable's absolute worst nightmare.”
Stoeffler says he was with Steele shortly after the shooting and has been in frequent contact with him.
He says Steele has voluntarily suspended his activities as constable.
“This is a situation that happened very suddenly and very violently,” Stoeffler said. “He was put in a position from which he couldn't retreat safely. He had no other option really than to do what he did and respond as he did.”
The state police confirmed with WPMT there was an ongoing eviction process and that Meyer knew the constable was on his way to execute the order to vacate the home.
“When they heard the knock, they knew who it was,” Hicks said. “The family had received multiple notifications. They in fact knew from their last notification that the constable would be arriving at their house.”
The constables' group says it is devastated by this incident.
“Putting on this uniform does not mean we take off our humanity,” Stoeffler said. “There was absolutely no reason for the actions of the defendant.”
Donald Meyer was flown to a hospital for treatment. He has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person.
Employees of the apartment complex had accompanied Steele to Meyer's address and witnessed the shooting, police said.
The rifle Meyer carried was loaded, had a bullet in the chamber, and its magazine was filled with 30 rounds.
Pennsylvania constables are not police officers but elected officials. They may be tasked with certain aspects of law enforcement in the duty of the courts, according to the Pennsylvania court system.