The death of a 12-year-old girl in Pennsylvania, who was accidentally shot and killed on Monday by a constable serving eviction papers, has sparked questions regarding the amount of training required for constables. A family member of the girl, Ciara Meyer, spoke publicly on Wednesday about the incident. According to Ron Rohde, a relative of hers by marriage, the family does not have “any hard feelings toward [the constable],” and places no blame on him for her death. “I cried for that constable,” said Rohde.
According to authorities, Ciara had stayed home sick from school on Monday. When Pennsylvania Constable Clark Steele arrived at her family’s home to serve the order, her father, 57-year-old Donald Meyer, aimed a loaded rifle at his chest, causing Steele to fire a shot in return. Ciara, standing behind Meyer, was struck by the bullet after it passed through Meyer’s arm. An autopsy later determined that Ciara’s death was a homicide caused by a gunshot to the chest.
Meyer, whose arm was shattered by the bullet, remained in the hospital Wednesday. He has been charged with multiple counts, including aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.
Rohde and his wife spoke for the family on Monday and said that Ciara, who was “such a little angel,” called him Uncle Ron. He said that the family has no “hard feelings” toward Constable Steele, saying that they “feel sorry for him. He’s got to live with this, the poor man, and he had no idea what he was walking into.” Rohde said that child protection agencies had investigated the family and that Ciara had at one time been taken from the home for several months.
The Meyers’ apartment, located near Duncannon, Pennsylvania, had been the location of “numerous” visits to warn of the upcoming eviction, which was not appealed by the Meyers. The family owed approximately $1,780 in overdue rent and court fees, and a deadline of Jan. 11 had been set for Meyer to vacate the property, leaving authorities to believe that Steele’s visit could not have been a surprise.
Calling the situation “a rat’s hole,” Rohde wondered if the constable had been briefed on the troubled family before he arrived with the eviction notice on Monday. Adding to any possible ill will between Meyer and the law, Pennlive.com reports Meyer was due to appear in court to plead on charges of DUI and resisting arrest Jan. 28.
Speaking to Pennlive.com, Dauphin County Constable Bill Stoeffler described Steele, who has six years experience on the job, as “completely distraught” over what transpired at the Meyer home on Monday. Stoeffler is also the spokesman for the region’s constables’ association and described the situation as “the worst nightmare” for all constables.
Constables in Pennsylvania are elected to the post and have limited power to enforce laws, although they do carry guns and can make arrests. They work for the state’s district courts transporting prisoners, serving warrants, and carrying out other duties for the courts.
In the wake of the 12-year-old girl’s death, coupled with a 2014 incident in which a Pennsylvania constable shot a man in the midst of trying to arrest him for outstanding warrants, questions have come up regarding training requirements for Pennsylvania’s constables. Stoeffler said on Wednesday that Steele had no other option when faced with Meyer aiming a shotgun at him on Monday. He said training was not a factor and that “he had two options, fire or be killed, and he chose really the only option that was available to him.”
Pennsylvania’s constables must undergo 80 hours of basic training, with additional training mandated for those who use firearms. State Representative Thomas Caltagirone (D-Penn.) said that the death of Ciara is only one more in a number of events which show that constables must be better trained. He compared the amount of required constable training with that of police, which involves more than 750 hours.
Stoeffler supports more training for constables, but said that police officer training and constable training is different because police officers are required to handle so much more as part of their duties. He said that constables have sufficient training to fulfill their current work for the state’s district courts.
Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Constables spokesman Ian Castaneira said that constables undergo annual firearm training comparable to that of municipal police. Even so, he says the Order does support legislation to increase the training hours for constables.
Cordas said Ciara was the only child of two disabled parents. Cordas has set up a GoFundMe page in order to raise donations to help with Ciara’s funeral costs. Extra funds raised will be used to set up a scholarship fund against Domestic Violence and Mental Illness in the girl’s school district.
According to the GoFundMe page, the family hopes that the shooting of this 12-year-old girl will “have some meaning” and that the funds will “have an impact on these terrible problems in our community.” Her death has already had some meaning for her community; it has already sparked a debate regarding the training required for Pennsylvania’s constables.
By Jennifer Pfalz
ABC News: Family: Constable Who Shot Girl Not to Blame for Her Death
GoFundMe.com: Ciara’s Fund
The Wall Street Journal: Constables Face Scrutiny After Girl’s Fatal Shooting
Image Courtesy of Ciara’s Fund on GoFundMe.com