PHILADELPHIA — A fired white Philadelphia police officer was charged Tuesday with criminal homicide for fatally shooting a black man in the back after a confrontation last year over a dirt bike.
Thirty-year-old David Jones had a gun on him when he was frisked by Officer Ryan Pownall, leading to a struggle, but he had thrown it to the ground and was running away when the officer shot and killed him, prosecutors said.
"Jones was no danger to anyone in his flight," according to a grand jury that recommended charges be filed.
Pownall, who was fired from the force last year but is appealing, surrendered Tuesday morning. He was held without bail on the homicide charge.
His attorney called the former officer's actions justified, given Jones had an illegally obtained gun on him. The police union issued a statement saying the charges show first-year District Attorney Larry Krasner, a former civil rights lawyer, "has an anti-law enforcement agenda."
Krasner said he believed it was only the second time in nearly 20 years that a Philadelphia officer had been charged with a crime for an on-duty fatal shooting.
He said such charges are "regrettably unusual in the history of the city of Philadelphia. Because 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 involved violence against civilians."
According to the grand jury report, Pownall was taking several witnesses including two children to the Special Victims Unit when he saw Jones riding a dirt bike on a city street.
Jones' bike had stalled and he pulled into the parking lot of a night club. Pownall also pulled into the lot, and when he frisked Jones, he felt a gun.
The grand jury said accounts about what happened next varied. The officer's attorney said the victim pulled his gun from his waist. All those involved agreed a scuffle ensued, prosecutors said, and that Pownall tried to shoot Jones but that his gun jammed.
Surveillance footage showed Jones dropping his gun on the ground and running, and Pownall opening fire, shooting Jones twice in the back.
Pownall told another officer he saw Jones toss his gun, which came to rest about 25 feet from where the officer opened fire and in the opposite direction from where Jones was fleeing, the grand jury said.
The grand jury concluded "there is no indication how Pownall could have reasonably believed Jones was still armed or dangerous."
"He was shot twice in the back, while he was unarmed and running away. At no point did Jones turn toward Pownall or gesture in a threatening manner," the grand jury wrote.
Pownall also faces a charge of reckless endangerment for firing in the direction of several cars that were waiting at a red light.
"Today is the day that the family of David Jones has been waiting for," Isaac Gardner, one of the most visible protesters after the shooting, said on behalf of the Jones family.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross said during a news conference last year announcing Pownall's suspension that Pownall's first attempt to shoot at Jones was justified under department policy but that the additional shots, when Jones had clearly dropped the gun, was 10 feet away and had his back turned, did not.
The shooting prompted protests across the city, including a Black Lives Matter demonstration outside Pownall's home. Police union president John McNesby later called the protesters "a pack of rabid animals."
According to police records, it was the second time Pownall, on the force 12 years, was involved in an on-duty shooting where a suspect was struck in the back.
Carnell Williams-Carney was paralyzed in 2010 after Pownall and a second officer fired shots at him as he fled, hitting him once in the back. A federal jury ruled in a lawsuit that Pownall and the other officer were justified in opening fire.
Since 2005, Pownall is the 94th non-federal officer charged with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty fatal shooting. Of those, 33 have been convicted, including two officers found guilty of murder, according to research from criminologist Phil Stinson, a professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who tracks police misconduct and criminal charges.