PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia judge agreed Wednesday to reassign the case of a fired Philadelphia police officer charged this month in the on-duty shooting death of a fleeing suspect.
The district attorney's office had asked Judge Patrick Dugan to step aside from former Officer Ryan Pownall's criminal homicide case because Dugan had overseen the grand jury's case before the district attorney filed charges. A spokesman for the district attorney's office said the move is procedural and unrelated to Dugan being married to a Philadelphia police lieutenant.
A hearing on reassigning the case has been set for next week. Pownall is being held without bond because the criminal homicide charge includes the possibility of first-degree murder, and defendants charged with first-degree murder are not eligible for release on bail in Pennsylvania.
District Attorney Larry Krasner charged Pownall with criminal homicide this month for the 2017 death of 30-year-old David Jones, who was shot in the back as he fled.
Prosecutors say Jones had a gun on him when he was approached by Pownall for riding a dirt bike on a street. Pownall felt the gun during a search of Jones, and a struggle ensued between the men.
Police officials previously said that Pownall tried to shoot Jones during the struggle, but that his gun jammed. Jones then fled and threw his gun away from Pownall and himself.
Prosecutors said Pownall shot Jones, who was then unarmed and fleeing, in the back. The grand jury's recommendation said that Jones was not a threat at the time and that Pownall violated several policies including firing his weapon toward cars waiting at a traffic light.
Pownall's attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said he does not believe there is enough evidence for criminal charges.
"He was legally justified of his actions on the day of the shooting," Perri said.
Pownall, who served in the department for 12 years, was fired last fall. Union officials have said they hope to get charges dropped and get Pownall's job back.
Krasner said previously 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.
The shooting prompted protests, 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, Pownall was involved in a 2010 on-duty shooting in which a suspect was struck in the back.
Carnell Williams-Carney was paralyzed 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.
This story has been corrected to show prosecutors asked for the reassignment to close the grand jury process not because the judge is married to a police lieutenant.