Jury in officer-involved shooting to come from Philadelphia

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

By John N. Mitchell

PHILADELPHIA — The protracted squabbling over whether a jury of Philadelphians could rule fairly in a high-profile shooting of a Black man by a white former police officer is over.

On Monday, Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara A. McDermott ruled that a jury of Philadelphians will decide the outcome of ex-cop Ryan Pownall, who is facing murder charges in the June 2017 shooting death of David Jones

The case is set to be heard on Jan. 6, 2020.

“I think that it’s a good thing,” said Jones’ father, Tommy Jones, who is currently living in Jonesboro, Georgia, and is planning to attend the trial. “It’s the smart thing to do — to have people who are at least familiar with the case to be on the jury. They have knowledge of the situation. Why would you want someone who is not at least somewhat aware of the case?”

Since Pownall was charged, his attorneys have argued that the media attention surrounding the case will make it impossible to empanel a jury without biases.

But “any time where there is a white police officer or law enforcement officer, no matter where the jury comes from, as we’ve seen in the past, there is potential for bias on the jury,” said activist Asa Khalif. “I’m hoping because of the officer’s past — this isn’t the first time he’s shot a Black man in the back — that we’ll see justice done here.”

Ryan Pownall, 37, allegedly shot Jones, 30, in the Juniata neighborhood on June 8, 2017. He initially was suspended for 30 days and then fired in September 2017.

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Pownall was charged with homicide in September 2018 after the District Attorney’s office and a grand jury investigated the shooting. He is the first Philadelphia police officer in about two decades to be charged in a use-of-force incident.

The grand jury investigation found that Pownall instigated the confrontation with Jones, and that Pownall shot Jones twice in the back while he was unarmed and running away.

Pownall encountered Jones riding a dirt bike illegally near the 4200 block of Whitaker Avenue. Jones pulled into the parking lot of a nightclub, and Pownall followed, according to the grand jury report.

At the time, Pownall was transporting three people — two of them children — in his patrol car to the Special Victims Unit, according to the report. Deviating from the transportation was against police policy.

Pownall exited his patrol car, walked up to Jones and reportedly said: “I’m taking your s–t.”

Pownall claimed that Jones suspiciously turned sideways away from him, which justified frisking him, and Pownall felt a firearm, according to the report.

An altercation ensued between Pownall and Jones, although details vary.

“He [Pownall] then got behind Jones, drew his gun and put that service weapon to the back of the man’s head,” according to the report.

During the altercation, Pownall attempted to shoot Jones, but his gun jammed, according to the report. Jones broke free from Pownall and ran back toward an intersection.

Surveillance video showed that “Jones’ hands were empty as he ran, and that he never turned or gestured in a threatening manner toward Pownall as he ran,” according to the report.

Pownall allegedly fired at least three shots toward traffic. One bullet struck Jones, but he kept running. A second bullet cut through Jones’ spine, lung, aorta and esophagus, according to the report. Jones was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he later died.

No gun was found in Jones’ possession.

However, a 9-mm handgun with 14 live rounds was recovered 25 feet from where Pownall and Jones were engaged in the altercation and in the opposite direction of where Jones fled, according to the report. The recovered firearm allegedly was similar to one found in images discovered on Jones’ cellphone.

Pownall reportedly told a fellow officer after the shooting that Jones had thrown the gun, according to the report.

Pownall had been involved in a prior shooting. In 2010, Pownall shot Carnell Williams-Carney, who had a gun, in the back as he fled.

Williams-Carney was left paralyzed. He filed a civil suit against the city and the police, and lost in 2013.

Jones’ family also filed a civil suit against the city and the police, and the two parties reached a $1 million settlement last year.

John N. Mitchell is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.