The election of civil rights attorney Larry Krasner as District Attorney in Philadelphia has already completely reshaped policing and criminal justice in the city. In his first week, he fired 31 prosecutors who wouldn’t get on board with his program of radical change and instituted a “do-not-call” list of 29 officers who shouldn’t be used as witnesses in criminal cases due to their tainted records. Then, in an incredible memo, he told prosecutors to stop all prosecutions for weed possession. The first line of the memo reads: “These policies are an effort to end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing.”
It comes as little surprise that Krasner is now the first Philly DA to charge a cop with murder in almost two decades. After a year of investigation, former Philadelphia police officer Ryan Pownall will be charged with murder for shooting David Jones in the back during a traffic stop in 2017. He has been denied bail, and his preliminary hearings will begin on September 19th.
“Today’s meritless indictment clearly illustrates a district attorney who has an anti-law-enforcement agenda,” John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, told reporters at a press conference.
In June 2017, as Pownall was driving a father and his children to the station for an interview, he saw Jones riding a dirtbike. “Look at this motherf–r,” Pownall reportedly said. The adult and children in his car witnessed the encounter.
The Philadelphia Inquirer describes what happened next:
The report says Pownall cursed at Jones, and then frisked him and felt a gun. A struggle ensued, but Jones broke free and ran away, according to the report. Pownall tried to fire his service gun but it jammed. He fixed it and fired at least three shots, the report says, striking Jones twice in the back.
Jones’ weapon—which he was barred from legally owning because of his previous felony convictions—was later found on the ground “roughly 25 feet from where Pownall was firing, in the opposite direction of Jones’ flight,” the report says.
“[Jones’] death was not necessary to secure his apprehension–an apprehension that would never have been necessary if Pownall had not incited the confrontation,” a grand jury report on the shooting says.
An investigation from Philadelphia Weekly and City & State PA last month reported that there were 15 civilian complaints against Pownall between 2013 and 2018. He was involved in another incident in 2010 in which he shot a black man from behind. The shooting victim survived, and no charges were pressed.
The last time a police officer was charged for a shooting in Philadelphia was in 1999. That case didn’t go to trial when the charges were dismissed by two judges.
Jones father was happy to hear about the charges. “It doesn’t bring him back,” Thomas Jones told the Inquirer, “but hopefully [we] continue to get justice.”
“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,” Krasner said at a press conference. He described the case as an attempt to “[apply] justice even-handedly,” and admitted that taking the step to charge a police officer with homicide was “regrettably unusual.”