PENN TWP., Pa. - A Perry County family and a state constable are both mourning the death of a 12-year-old girl who died in a shooting as the constable was enforcing an eviction notice.
Constable Clarke Steele, who has served in Perry and Dauphin counties for the past six years, was enforcing an eviction order at the home of 57-year-old Donald Meyer and his family.
Police say after a verbal dispute, Meyer pointed a loaded rifle at Steele.
“[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 said.
Steele shot Meyer in the arm, but the bullet went through and struck Meyer's 12-year-old daughter, police said. She died from the gunshot.
“[Steele] is heartsick and heartbroken over the outcome,” Bill Stoeffler, of the Commonwealth Constables Association and a colleague and friend of Steele, said 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 confirm 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.”
Meyer remains in the hospital and will be charged with assault and reckless endangerment upon his release, police said.
There is the question of Constable Steele being armed, because some constables are not.
That is ultimately up to the judges who contract with the constables, Stoeffler said, since they determine whether the constable can carry a firearm and go through additional training to do so.