‘Incompetent’: Judge Dismisses Charges of Police Who Fatally Shot Black Man Because D.A.’s Office Poorly Presented their Case

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office disagrees with a ruling made by a Common Pleas Court judge who dismissed murder charges against a police officer who fatally shot a Black man who was running away. The court says the counts had to be quashed because the grand jury was given flawed ruling instructions regarding the case.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Judge Barbara M. McDermott threw out Ryan Pownall’s third-degree murder, reckless endangering, and weapons charges for shooting David Jones in June of 2017 shooting in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia. The judge ruled that in 2021 prosecutors did not provide sufficient legal instructions for the grand jury to make a decision on charging Pownall with the 30-year-old’s death, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In her ruling, McDermott said there were “so many things wrong” in how the prosecution instructed the grand jurors before they deliberated on the case.

One of the issues with the prosecution the judge raised during the pretrial hearing was how the DA’s office did not give the jurors background on how and when officers are legally justified to use their weapons.

She asked, “How could the grand jury do [its] job without knowing that?”

Another issue was that the previous prosecutor testified and she had printed out the legal definition of murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter but left them on a table as the grand jury went in to deliberate the case.

The defense said that was not sufficient and that the prosecutor should have read out the charges, and as a result did not define malice. Malice is the difference between murder and manslaughter. 

McDermott sided with the defense also on this ground also.

District Attorney Larry Krasner’s spokesperson said the office “strongly disagrees” with the court on this matter and will be considering the next moves regarding the case.

The incident at the heart of the case began on June 8, 2017, when Pownall encountered Jones as the officer was transporting two children and their father to the special victim’s unit. Jones was riding his dirt bike on the street.

Jones parked his bike in the lot of a local nightclub and Pownall followed him into the area so that he could frisk him. Pownall would later say that during the search he felt a gun on Jones’ person, which led to a tussle between the men.

Pownall claims Jones tried to shoot him during the struggle but the Black man’s weapon jammed. Witnesses say at this point Jones tossed his gun and ran away, and Pownall fired his own gun at the 30-year-old, hitting twice him in the back.

Pownall was fired in September of 2017, and in September of the following year Krasner’s office charged him with murder. When district the grand jury recommended charges it said the fleeing Jones was “no danger to anyone in his flight” in his encounter with Pownall.

DA spokesperson Jane Roh said this week: “The District Attorney’s Office strongly disagrees on many levels with the court’s decision today in this matter and will be reviewing our options in the coming days.”

Over the past five years, there have been multiple delays in the case as both the prosecution and defense engaged in pretrial legal maneuvers. Now, with the new ruling, members of Pownall’s union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, are advocating that he get his job back.

The union chapter’s president, John McNesby said, “From the beginning, we called the filing of criminal charges against Officer Ryan Pownall an absolute disgrace.”

McNesby continued, “And today, a Philadelphia judge agreed and dropped all criminal charges against this officer. We promised a vigorous defense against all the charges and were happy to see that all criminal charges were dismissed.”

This is (or was) not the only perspective from law enforcement.

In 2017, when Pownall was suspended from the force, the then-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross believed the officer did not follow departmental policy when shot Jones.

While his first attempt to shoot the man was justified, the second fatal shot was not.  The additional shots were fired when the man was 10 feet away from him and not forward facing him. He was also, at the time of the shooting, unarmed.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia settled a civil lawsuit with Jones’ family for $1 million.

Gloria Jones, Jones’ mother, called the dismissal of the case “horrible,” saying she also disagrees with the judge’s decision. She said her children, the siblings of Jones, “feel in this world, there’s no justice for them.”

This is the second time, according to police records, that Pownall was involved in a shooting while he was on-duty. In 2010, he paralyzed a man named Carnell Williams-Carney. Striking him also in the back as he fled. In this incident, a federal jury ruled the shooting was justified.

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