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September 07, 2017

Philadelphia police to dismiss officer in controversial David Jones shooting

Investigation continues under direction of state Attorney General

A 12-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department will be dismissed from duty following months of contention over his use of force in the fatal shooting of North Philadelphia resident David Jones, Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced Thursday.

The dismissal of 15th District Officer Ryan Pownall comes exactly a month after rising tensions in Philadelphia pushed the investigation into the hands of the state Attorney General's Office. 

Jones, 30, was fatally shot on June 8 after Pownall stopped him for illegally driving his dirt bike "in a reckless manner" near the intersection of Whitaker and Hunting Park avenues. Pownall was transporting individuals to the Special Victims Unit at the time he confronted Jones, a choice Ross said showed poor judgment. 

Jones attempted to flee and was shot in the back after an initial struggle over a gun in his waistband, police said.

But conflicting accounts of what happened that night only intensified scrutiny of Pownall's conduct in the months since the shooting. 

At a Thursday morning press conference, Ross said Pownall failed to properly assess the situation and violated the departmental policy when he fired a second shot at Jones.

"Police work is a very difficult occupation," Ross said at a Thursday morning press conference. "It is arguably one of the most dangerous professions in this country. We ask police officers to deal with dangerous situations that most people cannot appreciate or understand. However, this does not relieve us of our responsibility ... and it does not mean we shouldn't be held accountable for our actions."

Ross said his decision to dismiss Pownall, who was previously involved in a 2010 shooting, was based solely on the facts of the current case and his past was not a factor.

In recent weeks, the Jones case has become the subject of a political confrontation between demonstrators aligned with Black Lives Matter and members of the police department. A protest outside Pownall's Northeast Philadelphia home last month drew criticism from state Rep. Martina White and Philadelphia police union head John McNesby, who disdainfully likened the protesters to "a pack of rabid animals."

Those comments drew rebuke from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, but Ross said Thursday he felt protesters were "out of bounds" for gathering at Pownall's home, where they hung posters depicting the officer as a "wanted" man on neighborhood telephone poles.

The protest, fed by the charged atmosphere that swept the nation after the violent attack in Charlottesville, culminated a month of demonstrations that disrupted press conferences and other events hosted by city officials.

Ross said the Attorney General's Office will now determine whether or not Pownall acted criminally.

"It's not for my opinion to decide."