Officer who fatally shot suspect is dismissed

Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced the suspension of Officer Ryan Pownall with “intent to dismiss.” Ross also criticized Black Lives Matter demonstrators who protested outside Pownall’s Bustleton home on Aug. 24.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators protested outside the 15th Police District on June 24. Officer Ryan Pownall was assigned to the 15th when he shot a suspected gunman on June 8. TIMES FILE PHOTO.

Stating that a previously armed man posed no immediate threat to police or civilians, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross last Thursday announced the imminent dismissal of an officer who fatally shot the alleged gunman during a June traffic stop in Feltonville.

During a news conference at Police Headquarters, Ross also asserted harsh criticism of Black Lives Matter demonstrators who protested outside Officer Ryan Pownall’s Bustleton home on Aug. 24 to demand justice for the slain suspect, David Jones.

Jones, 30, had dropped his gun and was running away from Pownall on the 4100 block of Whitaker Ave. at about 6:41 p.m. on June 8 when the officer used his own gun to fire the deadly shots, Ross said. Surveillance video and witness accounts of the encounter provided key evidence in the department’s investigation.

“In order to fire at a fleeing suspect, there must be an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to an officer or another person,” Ross said. “Because Jones never looked back at Pownall in the video and (Jones’) hands were empty, he posed no imminent or immediate threat to Pownall.”

The commissioner has suspended Pownall from the police force for 30 days with “intent to dismiss” him after the suspension. The 30-day period is required as part of the collective bargaining process between the department and the city’s police union. Leaders of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 did not comment upon request.

Ross said he did not speak personally with Pownall about the firing. The commissioner said he had little choice but to dismiss the officer.

“It is never an easy decision to take someone’s livelihood, in this case their job. I don’t care what it is,” Ross said. “As a human being, you have to think about that. But in this case, there were serious policy violations that were made. It’s not even a question of what someone’s perceptions were versus another’s. I saw it (on video). Shooting investigators saw it. And that’s where it starts and stops.”

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is leading a criminal investigation of the case. The state prosecutor declined to comment on Ross’ announcement, citing the ongoing nature of its probe. The AG’s office has not revealed when it expects to complete its investigation.

When asked if he’s concerned that Pownall may win his job back through arbitration, Ross said that authorities would have to rule out or close any criminal proceedings against Pownall before he could seek reinstatement.

The commissioner said that Pownall violated multiple police department policies that evening. Pownall, a 12-year police veteran assigned to the 15th district in the Northeast, initiated the traffic stop while transporting a man and his two children to the Special Victims Unit in connection with an unrelated investigation. SVU is at Hunting Park and Whitaker avenues in the neighboring 25th district.

Police have previously said that Pownall was driving a patrol car when he saw Jones riding an unregistered off-road motorcycle recklessly in the street. Those “dirt bikes” are illegal to operate on public streets, but police policy dictates that officers should not chase them because pursuits can create a disproportionate hazard to the participants and bystanders. However, in this case, Jones’ cycle apparently broke down on a sidewalk. Pownall stopped his patrol car with the passengers still in the back seat and approached Jones.

“Pownall used poor judgment when he chose to make a vehicle stop for a motor vehicle violation with civilians in his car,” Ross said.

Pownall frisked Jones and felt what he thought was a gun in Jones’ waistband, Ross said. The officer warned Jones not to reach for the weapon, but Jones did, Ross said. During a physical struggle, Pownall pulled his own gun from its holster and tried to shoot it, but the weapon jammed, Ross said. Jones broke free from Pownall’s grasp and ran.

Jones discarded his gun, but Pownall thought the suspect was still armed, Ross said. Pownall fired his gun, striking Jones twice at a range of 10 feet and 35 feet. Jones suffered wounds of the back and buttocks. He died about 18 minutes later at Temple University Hospital. Police found Jones’ loaded gun on the ground at least 45 feet from where Jones collapsed, Ross said.

While Pownall’s first attempt at firing his gun was warranted, Ross said, the officer’s second and third shots violated department policy. After Jones began to flee, Pownall should have “reassessed” the situation, Ross said. The officer could have ducked for cover if he believed Jones was armed or could have chased Jones if he thought the suspect was unarmed.

“Sadly, two parallel lanes of poor judgment crossed on that evening,” Ross said. “… (Pownall) elected to take aim and fire two shots at Jones while he was running away. … And Jones also used poor judgment when he carried a gun illegally, drove a motorcycle that is illegal to operate on a city street and refused to comply with Pownall’s orders.”

As reporters entered Police Headquarters in advance of Thursday’s news conference, two leaders of the city’s Black Lives Matter organization stood at the door chanting “Justice for David Jones” and taking credit for Pownall’s firing.

When reporters exited the building, the demonstrators stood outside while about a dozen police officers guarded the door.

The two BLM leaders were among about a dozen demonstrators who assembled outside Pownall’s home on Aug. 24 for about one hour. They used a bullhorn to deliver profanity-laden criticisms of Pownall and police in general. The same two protest leaders used similar tactics during demonstrations in the mayor’s City Hall reception room on Aug. 7, at a footbridge dedication in Pennypack Park on Aug. 9 and at a reception for an Irish diplomat at the Free Library’s Central Branch on Aug. 10. The same two men have conducted several profanity-ridden protests outside Pownall’s 15th Police District at Levick Street and Harbison Avenue.

Ross said that the demonstrators did not have a permit to protest outside Pownall’s house. Police had heard about the protest in advance, but thought it was going to occur at the 15th district, not the officer’s home, Ross said.

“Some of those actions outside the officer’s house I thought were fully unnecessary,” Ross said. “They crossed the line with respect to boundaries. There’s a way to protest, and in front of a person’s home and doing so with the person’s family (involved), that’s out of bounds.”

The commissioner debunked what he described as false rumors within the department and the community that police have been ordered not to take enforcement action against unpermitted protesters or those who cause public disturbances.

“Assessments are made at every demonstration or protest by commanders at the scene. … Will everybody always agree in terms of how things are handled? Absolutely not,” Ross said. “But there is no standing order, despite what has been reported, what has been rumored, from me or from the mayor that no (police officer) is able to do anything relative to any particular protester, irrespective of who they are. That simply is categorically, unequivocally not true.” ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.