Friday, August 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Perkasie police chief starting probe of fatal shooting

The performance of three officers who grapppled with a mentally ill Quakertown man until one shot him will be evaluated to determine whether they followed the department's procedures.

Perkasie police chief starting probe of fatal shooting

The Perkasie Borough police chief is starting his investigation of the fatal shooting of a handcuffed, mentally ill Quakertown man by one of his officers, now that the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office has wrapped up its probe.

“I’ll look at whether there were any violations of our general orders,” Chief Joseph Gura said Tuesday, a day after District Attorney David Heckler announced that the June 9 shooting in Sellersville was justified.

“If there were [violations], I’ll determine the discipline,” Gura said. “If not, I’ll decide where we go from there.”

It was “the first time a [police officer's] weapon was discharged at a person” in his 32 years on the force, he said.

The next step will be a review process of three officers’ response to the call about a ranting, threatening man roaming the streets that ended with Michael Marino, 26, being fatally shot once in the chest, the chief said.

“We’ll look at what was good, and what was bad,” Gura said. We have to learn from it.”

Officer Seth Mumbauer, who fired the fatal shot, has been on administrative leave with pay since the incident,  Gura said.

Heckler, in releasing a 10-page report by county detectives, cleared Mumbauer, Sgt. James Rothrock and Officer Steven Graff of any criminal acts.

But the confrontation should never have reached the point that a man died, Heckler concluded. The officers’ only plan was to take Marino to Grandview Hospital, he said.

“Three physically fit police officers, two of them armed with tasers and batons as well as sidearms, and one trained specifically in dealing with mentally ill and drug-abusing subjects like Marino, should have been able to avoid the loss of tactical control which led to Officer Mumbauer’s being in a position where the use of deadly force was necessary,” the report said.

The officers made three mistakes, Heckler said:

  1. They did not give Marino enough time to calm down and for drugs in his system to wear off. ‘Why, after five minutes of talking to him, did they decide to take him into custody? It was hot, he was sweating. I would hope that he would burn himself out at some point. Nobody was going anywhere.”
  2. Assuming it was a valid decision to take Marino into custody, “they were on uneven ground. … It was a bad place to engage, giving Mr. Marino lots of advantages.”
  3. “It wasn’t the time for Sgt. Rothrock to walk away – he could not assist the other officers.” Rothrock was heading toward an approaching witness to keep him away, but the man “was not a threat.”

Rothrock walked away after Mumbauer handcuffed Marino behind his back, and the suspect was briefly calm, according to the report. But as Graff patted him down, Marino reacted violently, ”dropping to the ground as he was kicking and flailing,” the officer told detectives.

Marino knocked Graff down an embankment, disorienting him, according to the report. He then kicked Mumbauer below his jaw and in the groin, knocking him “slightly down the hill.”

Marino “lurched” toward Mumbauer, who said he felt as though he was in “a fog,” according to the report.

“I believed that he might grab my gun,” the officer told investigators. “I took a step back and drew my duty weapon. As he rocked up and came at me, I fired a single shot” into Marino’s chest.  “He immediately dropped to the ground and stopped moving.

Marino was declared dead at the scene. An autopsy found traces of synthetic amphetamine and marijuana and other stimulants in Marino’s system.          

Gura said he could not comment on Heckler’s findings because Marino’s family has indicated it will be filing a civil suit.

Lawyer Gerald A. McHugh, representing Marino’s father, stepmother and sister, said no papers had been filed. He declined to discuss the case, standing by the statement he issued Monday.

“The undisputed fact remains that an unarmed young man, in the throes of mental illness, was shot with his hands cuffed behind his back, with three police officers on the scene,” the statement said. “We intend to continue pursuit of all remedies the law provides, with the goal of securing justice for the death of our son, and reforming the procedures of the Perkasie police to prevent such senseless tragedies in the future.”

Marino lived with his sister, Amber Simione, on Emerald Lane. She was away the weekend of the shooting, according to the report, and had told a neighbor that her brother “has not been taking his medication.”

At her townhouse on the quiet street Tuesday, Simione said she was “not interested in talking.”

A neighbor said Marino lived on the block for about three years.

“He was always so excited to say ‘Hi” to my children” when they were playing outside, Yazmin Pinilla said about her two sons and daughter, ages 5, 4 and 1. “He was always walking around the neighborhood with his dog, not really talking, because he was smoking.”

Marino was especially excited to get Christmas cookies from his neighbors. 

“His sister said it was because no one ever gave him anything,” Pinilla said. "A month later, he gave cookies to my children." 

Perkasie police responded to the call about Marino because Sellersville contracts the department’s services.

Perkasie Mayor John Hollenbach said the borough would “abide by the findings of the county deterctives,” and the chief would conduct his investigation.

“There’s nothing that can remove the tragedy of anyone losing their life.”

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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