One of the highest-profile fatal police shootings in recent Philadelphia history will lead to the first murder charges against a Philly cop in two decades, who as of press-time was awaiting arraignment and expected to be held without bail. Ryan Pownall, a white ex-Philly cop who was fired in September 2017 for fatally shooting black dirt-biker David Jones, 30, in the back as Jones ran away unarmed, was set to be charged on Tuesday with murder generally, possession of an instrument of crime and recklessly endangering another person, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner announced on Tuesday.
The charges were based on a grand jury investigation of the controversial case, which was followed by numerous protests throughout the Philadelphia region, including on the street outside Pownall’s house. Pownall was fired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross in September 2017, three months after the shooting, for violating departmental policy.
Ryan Pownall killed Jones on June 8 after a traffic stop, which occurred while Pownall was driving a father and his two children to the Special Victims Unit to report an alleged sex crime.
Pownall saw Jones riding his dirt bike into the parking lot of a nightclub near Hunting Park and Whitaker avenues in Juniata Park, and reportedly “cut across oncoming traffic,” went after Jones, and initiated an impromptu traffic stop.
As Pownall frisked Jones, he felt a firearm, and the two men scuffled. Pownall tried to shoot Jones as they fought, but his gun jammed, Ross said in September 2017.
According to the grand jury investigation, Jones dropped his gun and fled, as Pownall fired twice more at him from behind, from 10 and 35 feet away, striking him fatally in the back and buttocks. Surveillance video showed Jones running before being shot.
“There was no reason or necessity for Pownall to shoot Jones, let alone fire at his back until he went down,” the investigatory grand jury’s report recommending charges stated. “For no reason, Pownall fired his gun in the direction of traffic, endangering other people. Jones was no danger to anyone in his flight. His death was not necessary to secure his apprehension – an apprehension that would never have been necessary if Pownall had not incited the confrontation.”
Jones’ gun was later found some 25 feet behind where Pownall was standing, in the opposite direction of where Jones fled, the grand jury found.
Pownall, who was detained without bail as is required of all criminal charges of murder generally in Philadelphia, was awaiting arraignment as of press time Tuesday. His wife and brother appeared at a press conference at FOP Lodge #5 on Tuesday.
Brother Edward Pownall described the family as feeling “horribly saddened and disturbed … that this case is even being made against my brother. … he loves being an officer, he’s a great person. … We look forward to bringing Ryan home.”
Attorney Fortunato Perri Jr. said Pownall was “legally justified” in the Jones shooting.
“He encountered someone who was armed with an unlawful pistol, who pulled that pistol from his waist, a struggle ensued,” Perri said. “He was legally completely justified in his action and he will be exonerated of all charges.”
Ryan Pownall and the death of David Jones
Despite Ryan Pownall being fired, the lack of criminal charges in his case over the last 15 months sparked multiple protests by Black Lives Matter-affiliated activists and the Justice 4 David Jones coalition, including, most infamously, one outside Pownall’s Bustleton home, during which protesters posted “wanted” flyers with Pownall’s picture. Pownall was back in the news recently after it was revealed he had been hired at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, but quit after co-workers protested his hiring.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 president John McNesby said the murder indictment was meritless and “illustrates DA Krasner’s anti-law-enforcement agenda.”
“Right now there’s no accountability anywhere,” McNesby said at FOP’s press conference. “We have criminals walking out the back door of police districts and detectives divisions.”
The Pownall investigation was protracted, as after Ross fired Pownall, the investigation was handed over to the state Attorney General’s office by interim Philly DA Kelley Hodge due to a personal conflict. AG Josh Shapiro returned the case to the Philadelphia DA after Krasner took office at the beginning of 2017.
Krasner said at a press conference Tuesday that this is believed to be the first time a Philadelphia police officer had been charged with murder since the 1998 shooting of Donta Dawson, for which officer Chris DiPasquale was charged with manslaughter. A judge later dismissed those charges.
“I think there has been a tremendous lack of accountability for police officer misconduct, police crimes, in many, many jurisdictions in the United States for a long time, and I don’t think Philadelphia is an exception,” Krasner said Tuesday when asked why so few Philly police shootings led to criminal charges. “We are blessed to be in a time when video is ubiquitous, it is almost everywhere … and sometimes we are actually confronted with the truth, which makes it a little bit easier than it might have been at other times to do the right thing.”