Judge downgrades murder charge against ex-cop Pownall

Former police officer Ryan Pownall, of Bustleton, had his murder charge reduced Thursday and was allowed to return home on $500,000 bail.

Members of David Jones’ family speak to reporters Thursday, Oct. 11 after a hearing for former police officer Ryan Pownall. Doretha Crosby, Jones’ mother, is pictured center. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Supporters of former police officer Ryan Pownall scored a significant victory on Thursday when a judge downgraded his murder charge and paved the way for him to return home.

Pownall, 36, of Bustleton, was charged last month with first-degree murder and other crimes in connection to the 2017 fatal shooting of David Jones in Feltonville. The incident sparked protests at various locations, including at Pownall’s home and outside 15th District headquarters on Levick Street.

On Thursday, Judge Robert Coleman made the decision to reduce Pownall’s charge to third-degree murder and set his bail at $500,000. Pownall had previously been held without bail after surrendering to authorities in early September.

Pownall posted 10 percent of his bail on Thursday not long after the hearing concluded, according to court records. He is allowed to return home on house arrest. He will be permitted to leave only for religious services and meetings with his attorney.

The judge also waived Pownall’s preliminary hearing, meaning the case will head to trial on the lesser charge.

“We’re obviously extremely satisfied with the court’s decision,” Pownall’s attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., told reporters after the hearing. “We will now prepare this case for trial.”

Perri also said he believes a jury will find that Pownall’s actions were justified.

Members of Jones’ family were seated in the jury box for the hearing, which was held in a courtroom packed mostly with police officers and Pownall’s family and friends.

“Today, the judge gave Pownall a temporary pass,” said Donna Clement-Jackson, Jones’ godmother. “We still stand in our faith. We’re going to let the system play out.”

“We don’t care what the charges are, as long as there’s a charge, because no charge is going to bring David back,” she added. “But as long as we are taking it to trial, that is all we need.”

Jones’ mother, Doretha Crosby, declined to speak to reporters outside the courthouse.

Rowena Faulk, a Jones supporter, was visibly distraught following the decision. She did not know Jones personally, but she said she has been advocating for him since the fatal shooting.

“This is insane,” Faulk said. “If it was my son, he wouldn’t have seen the streets ever.”

“He was a terrible cop,” she added, referring to Pownall.

Police officers outside the courthouse formed a barrier around Pownall’s family as they left the hearing. A woman who identified herself as Pownall’s cousin said she felt “wonderful” after the judge’s decision.

John J. McNesby, FOP Lodge №5 president, released a statement praising the move.

“We are happy with today’s ruling to drop the charges to third degree murder,” he said. “This will allow officer Pownall to post bail and actively participate in his defense.”

“Officer Pownall looks forward to returning to his family,” McNesby continued. “And again, we believe officer Pownall will be cleared of all charges after a fair-minded jury hears all the facts of the case.”

The District Attorney’s Office in a statement praised Judge Coleman’s decision to waive a preliminary hearing and go to trial.

“This is a major victory for justice because we are proceeding to trial,” the DA’s office said. “Nearly 20 years ago, judges twice tossed murder charges against the last on-duty officer who was charged with homicide. Judge Coleman’s ruling today means that history will not repeat itself and a jury will hear all the evidence in the case.”

Coleman’s other rulings are still being reviewed by the DA’s office, according to the statement. The office did not comment on the downgrade of the murder charge or the bail decision.

Thursday’s hearing came nearly a week after the city agreed to a $1 million settlement with Jones’ family. The agreement did not include an admission of guilt or liability on the part of the city.

Pownall was charged Sept. 4 after a grand jury report found that he did not follow police protocol and unnecessarily killed Jones.

Pownall, then a 15th District police officer, stopped Jones, who was riding a dirt bike, on June 3, 2017, near the intersection of Whitaker and Hunting Park avenues. Pownall was in the process of transporting a man and two children to the Special Victims Unit after an alleged crime against one of the children, according to the grand jury report.

He frisked Jones and felt a gun, the report states. During a physical altercation, Pownall reportedly tried to fire his gun but it jammed. Jones, who threw his gun away during the confrontation, was able to break free, and he ran away from Pownall, according to the report.

The report found that Pownall fired his gun at least three times and hit Jones twice in the back. Jones’ gun was found about 25 feet from Pownall in the opposite direction from where Jones was running, according to the grand jury.

In September 2017, Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced Pownall’s suspension with intent to dismiss.

A formal arraignment for Pownall is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 25. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com