A former Philly police officer will go free after his murder case was dismissed by a Philadelphia judge. In 2017, Ryan Pownall shot David Jones, a Black man who was stopped by Pownall after he saw him riding a dirt bike on the street. Pownall was transporting a crime victim when he saw Jones pull his stalled dirt bike into a nightclub parking lot. Pownall then pulled into the lot behind him.
During the stop, after Pownall frisked him and felt a gun, the two scuffled over it, and Pownall shot Jones in the back as he attempted to flee.
In a phone interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jones’ mother, Gloria Jones, said the decision was “horrible.”
“They feel in this world, there’s no justice for them,” Jones said of her remaining children.
The case was overturned on a technicality as Pownall’s lawyers successfully argued that the prosecution never read the charges out to the jury, nor did they define the difference between murder and manslaughter, which is considered ‘malice’ in the eyes of the law.
Also, the jury wasn’t told about the “justified use of force” statute, which reads in part, “A peace officer, or any person whom he has summoned or directed to assist him, need not retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance to the arrest. He is justified in the use of any force which he believes to be necessary to effect the arrest and of any force which he believes to be necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest.”
Judge Barbara McDermott of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas agreed with the defense that the District Attorney’s office didn’t provide the jury with the proper instructions. Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner has come under fire from critics who believe that he’s been too liberal on crime in the city, which has seen homicides increase every year during his tenure.
Though Krasner was reelected to a second term by a wide margin in 2021, state legislators have been trying to impeach him since June.
The decision hinges on the actions of the grand jury that investigated whether or not to press charges in the first place. That prosecutor said that she printed out the legal definitions of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and manslaughter for the grand jury to review, per reports on the case.
Pownall was fired from the Philadelphia police force shortly after the shooting and, in 2018, was initially charged with first-degree murder, later downgraded to third-degree murder. His lawyers told the Inquirer they will seek to have Pownall, who was supported by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 throughout the case, reinstated to the Philadelphia police force.
Prosecutors can still rearrest and re-charge Pownall.
In a statement, a District Attorney’s office spokesperson Jane Roh said, “The District Attorney’s Office strongly disagrees on many levels with the court’s decision today in this matter and will be reviewing our options in the coming days.”
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