Fired Philly officer charged with homicide
Philadelphia – A fired white Philadelphia police officer was charged Tuesday with criminal homicide for fatally shooting a black man in the back after a confrontation last year over a dirt bike.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Tuesday that former Officer Ryan Pownall is also charged with reckless endangerment related to the June 2017 shooting. Pownall, who was fired from the force pending an appeal, turned himself in Tuesday morning and was scheduled for arraignment later in the day.
“Today is the day that the family of David Jones has been waiting for,” said Isaac Gardner, one of the most visible protesters after Jones’ shooting, said on behalf of his family. He added that they were excited for the charges, which they had not believed would happen.
Krasner said his office had done a separate investigation to that done by the grand jury, resulting in the charges Tuesday. The city’s previous district attorney had asked the state attorney general to investigate the shooting because of a conflict of interest, but the investigation was given back to the district attorney’s office when Krasner took over.
“We are also doing something that is regrettably unusual in the history of the city of Philadelphia. Because this is a city like many other American cities, where there has not been accountability for activity by police officers in uniform especially when that activity involved violence against civilians,” Krasner said.
Police union officials called the charge “absurd,” pointing out that the general homicide charge means Pownall will not be eligible for bail under state law.
“Today’s meritless indictment clearly illustrates a district attorney that has an anti-law enforcement agenda,” said police union President John McNesby. “We will have a vigorous defense … and we expect him to be cleared of all charges and to get his job back protecting this community.”
According to the grand jury report released Tuesday, Pownall was transporting several witnesses including two children to the Special Victims Unit when he saw 30-year-old David Jones riding a dirt bike on a city street. Jones’ bike had stalled and he pulled into the parking lot of a night club.
Pownall pulled into the parking lot and approached Jones. Prosecutors said that when Pownall frisked Jones he felt a gun, which led to a scuffle. Pownall then tried to shoot Jones but his gun jammed.
Surveillance footage showed Jones then putting his gun on the ground and running, and Pownall opening fire, shooting Jones in the back twice. Pownall fired toward several cars that were waiting at a red light, Krasner said.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross said during a news conference last year announcing Pownall’s suspension that the officer’s judgment was flawed. Ross said Pownall’s first attempt to shoot at Jones was justified under department policy, because it happened right after the struggle with a weapon. The additional shots, when Jones had clearly dropped the gun, was 10 feet away and had his back turned did not follow department guidelines.
The shooting prompted protests across the city, including a Black Lives Matter protest outside Pownall’s home.
McNesby came under fire for calling the protesters, “a pack of rabid animals” while rallying support for the officer, who was a 12-year veteran of the force.
According to police records, it was the second time Pownall was involved in an on-duty shooting where a suspect was struck in the back.
Carnell Williams-Carney was paralyzed in 2010 after Pownall and a second officer fired shots at him as he fled, hitting him once in the back. A federal jury ruled in a civil lawsuit that Pownall and the other officer were justified in opening fire.
Krasner said he believed the last time the city charged an officer with a crime for an on-duty fatal shooting was nearly 20 years ago, when Christopher DiPasquale was charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Donta Dawson.
Since 2005, Pownall is the 94th non-federal officer charged with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty fatal shooting. Of those, 33 have been convicted including two officers found guilty of murder, according to research from criminologist Phil Stinson, a professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who has been tracking police misconduct and criminal charges.
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