Philadelphia, PA – A former Philadelphia police officer has been charged with murder, after he fatally shot an armed convicted felon during an on-duty altercation in 2017.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced the charges against former Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall on Tuesday morning, WPHT reported.
Officer Pownall, 36, was fired by the department in September of 2017, after an internal investigation determined that he had committed “serious policy violations” during the altercation with 30-year-old David Jones, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross told WPHT at the time.
The incident occurred on June 8, 2017, when Officer Pownall spotted Jones illegally riding a dirt bike and cutting through lanes of traffic on Whitaker Avenue, CNN reported.
During the traffic stop that followed, Officer Pownall felt a gun in Jones’ waistband, at which point Jones began fighting with him and refused to comply, WPHT reported.
“[Pownall] encountered someone who is armed with an unlawful pistol, pulled that pistol from his waist, a struggle ensued,” Pownall’s attorney, Fortunato Perri told CNN.
During the fight, Officer Pownall drew his weapon and attempted to shoot Jones in the head, but the gun jammed, according to court documents.
At that point, Jones broke away from him and began to run away. The officer opened fire, hitting Jones twice in the back.
Jones was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators determined that Officer Pownall’s first attempted shot – which jammed – was justified, but that the subsequent rounds were not, WPHT reported.
Comm. Ross acknowledged that Officer Pownall believed Jones was still armed when he opened fire, although Jones had tossed his weapon as he was running away.
“Because Jones never looked back at Pownall and had nothing in his hands, he posed no imminent threat to Pownall,” the commissioner said, despite his understanding that Officer Pownall thought Jones still had a gun. “Jones also used poor judgment as well when he carried a gun illegally, rode a motorcycle that is illegal to operate on a city street and refused to comply with Pownall’s orders.”
Jones was prohibited from possessing firearms due to his prior felony convictions, The Inquirer reported.
Krasner said that surveillance video showed that Jones was 10 feet away from the officer when he was hit by the second round, and was 35 feet away from the officer when he was struck by the third round, WPHT reported.
“Jones was searched at the scene, no gun was recovered on his person,” Krasner said.
His discarded gun was located nearby, however.
“At the time of Jones' flight, Jones was not a danger to anyone," he added, according to CNN. "Jones' death was not necessary to secure the apprehension of Jones."
Krasner said that bringing the charges against Pownall was a demonstration in “applying justice even-handedly,” and said it was “regrettably unusual” that officers aren’t criminal charged more often, The Inquirer reported.
"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 involves violence against civilians," the former defense lawyer lamented.
Krasner also touched on the issue of race with regards to the incident, according to CNN.
"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," he 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."
Pownall, who served the department for 12 years, was also charged with endangering another person and possession of an instrument of crime for firing his service weapon in the direction of traffic.
Pownall’s family, Perri, and the Fraternal Order of Police blasted Krasner in the wake of his announcement.
“Today’s meritless indictment clearly illustrates a DA who had an anti-law enforcement agenda,” FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby said during a press conference, according to WPHT.
“Officer Pownall was justified in his actions that night,” Perri agreed, according to CNN. "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."
Jones’ father, Thomas Jones, cited Pownall’s involvement in an earlier officer-involved shooting as a “big red flag” that showed a history of him making “a mistake on the job,” CNN reported.
That incident took place in July of 2010, when Officer Pownall and his partner encountered recently-released prison inmate Carnell Williams-Carney.
Williams-Carney was armed with a gun, and the officers opened fire as he attempted to run away from them.
One round struck Williams-Carney in the back, paralyzing him below the waist.
“I understand some people make mistakes,” Thomas told CNN. “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."
The shooting was determined to be justified, not a mistake.
Pownall pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, and was ordered to be held without bail.
His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sep. 19, The Inquirer reported.