A former Philadelphia police officer who shot and killed a man as he ran away after a traffic stop was charged in the death on Tuesday.
Ryan Pownall, who turned himself in on Tuesday morning, was charged with criminal homicide in the June 8, 2017, death of David Jones, 30, District Attorney Larry Krasner said at a news conference announcing the charges.
Jones was illegally riding a dirt bike on city streets when Pownall spotted him cutting across several lanes of traffic, a grand jury investigation found. Pownall followed Jones and they got into a scuffle. Jones broke free, ditched a gun he had tucked in his waistband and was running away when he was shot in the back by Pownall, the investigation found.
Jones’ weapon was found about 25 feet from where Pownall fired his service weapon, Krasner said.
“At the time of Jones’ flight, Jones was not a danger to anyone,” Krasner said. “Jones’ death was not necessary to secure the apprehension of Jones.”
Pownall’s attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said the former officer was a respected and dedicated member of the Philadelphia Police Department.
“[Pownall] encountered someone who is armed with an unlawful pistol, pulled that pistol from his waist, a struggle ensued. Officer Pownall was justified in his actions that night,” Perri said. “The evidence will clearly show that based on the facts and circumstance that will be presented at a trial, that he was legally completely justified in his actions and he will be exonerated of all charges.”
The incident began when Pownall spotted Jones cross over empty lanes of traffic and pull into the parking lot of a nightclub, according to the grand jury investigation.
Pownall, who was transporting two children and their father, a fellow officer, to the special victims unit, pulled over and confronted Jones, the investigation showed.
Pownall frisked Jones and felt a handgun in his waistband, according to the investigation. The two then grappled and Pownall, according to witness testimony, took out his service weapon and held it to the back of Jones’ head.
Pownall tried to fire his weapon, but the gun jammed, the grand jury report said. Jones broke free and started to run. Pownall fired at least three shots, two of which struck Jones in the back, the report said. Jones was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
After the shooting, the report found, Pownall told another officer at the scene that Jones tossed the gun away before he ran. Surveillance video from the nightclub showed Jones’ hands were empty as he ran and he did not turn or gesture to Pownall as he ran away, the report said.
Pownall, a 12-year member of the department, was suspended after the incident and fired in September 2017, the Philadelphia Police Department said.
Along with the homicide charge, Pownall faces charges of possession of an instrument of crime and recklessly endangering another person, because he fired his service weapon in the direction of traffic. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail at his arraignment on Tuesday evening.
At the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police headquarters, Pownall supporters, including his family, spoke against the charges.
“He loves being an officer. He’s a great person,” said Pownall’s brother, Edward, who added that the family was “saddened and disturbed” by the charges.
Krasner noted Pownall’s case is one of a string of fatal police-involved incidents that have gained national attention, and the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers have stirred civil unrest and brought racial tensions to the forefront, spurring the Black Lives Matter movement. But he stopped short of saying this shooting had a racial component.
“What I see is that we have a case in which the officer is white. I can see that we have a case in which the man who was shot to death is black,” Krasner said. “I cannot tell you and will not tell you that I have any particular reason to believe that this officer was a racist or that this officer was operating from any kind of racial animosity.”
Police union president John McNesby called the charge absurd and said Pownall has a strong defense that will clear his name and get his job back.
“The officer is entitled to due process and currently is presumed innocent,” McNesby said. “Today’s meritless indictment clearly illustrates the DA has an anti-law enforcement agenda.”
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Carnell Williams-Carney was shot and paralyzed in a similar incident in July 2010.
Pownall and his partner confronted Williams-Carney, who at the time was recently released from prison and was carrying an illegal handgun, according to the Inquirer. Williams-Carney took off running and Pownall and his partner gave chase. The officers opened fire, firing 10 rounds before one struck Williams-Carney in the back, paralyzing him from the chest down. Later, Pownall testified that he believed the bullet that paralyzed Williams-Carney came from his service weapon, reported the Inquirer, although the bullet was not recovered from the victim for testing.
A jury in a lawsuit brought by Williams-Carney against the city found that the shooting was justified.
Jones’ father, Thomas Jones, 48, said, “I understand some people make mistakes. If it was your first time, maybe, you know, it was a mistake on the job. But two times the same situation? Really. That raises a big red flag.”
Thomas Jones, a truck driver, said the family has had a hard time coming to terms with the fatal shooting, so much so that the family moved to Georgia four months ago because the pain was too much.
“It’s been hard. We would call each other for advice. I don’t have a lot of people like that,” Thomas said. “He was my best friend.”