June 8th, 2017 was a warm early summer evening, and David Jones was riding his red dirt-bike up Whitaker Ave in near Northeast in Philadelphia to meet a potential buyer. He was looking to sell the bike, because even though they are commonly ridden throughout the city, they are not ‘street legal.’ He was afraid the bike would bring him and his family problems with the law. He was right.
Like many Philadelphians, David had previous interactions with the legal system as a young person, and he was working hard to turn his life around and take care of his family. David, known as DJ to friends and family, was Black and grew up in Philadelphia. After high school, he was arrested for selling weed. He was convicted and did his time. When he was released on parole, he followed the rules to the letter. He put himself through school to get his Commercial Driver’s License, and with family and community support, he got a job with an over the road trucking company, despite the challenges that having an arrest record bring. The night he was shot and killed by the police, he had just bought a house in Juniata and was looking forward to a new start with his wife and son.
Instead of meeting to talk about selling the bike that night, DJ was shot in the back as he fled on foot from Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall, who was violating several department protocols to conduct a ‘stop and frisk’ while in the middle of another task. Officer Pownall is assigned to the 15th Police District in Mayfair, but pulled DJ over in Juniata.
When Officer Pownall stopped DJ for riding the dirt-bike, the police officer was transporting 2 young children and their father to the Special Victims Unit. One of the children was the victim of an attempted kidnapping and assault.
During the altercation, DJ was shot in the back 3 times while running away from Officer Pownall. According to the police report, a gun was found at the scene that allegedly belonged to DJ, but none of the witnesses, including the cop, saw him draw a weapon or threaten the officer.
According to PPD protocol, similar to policies in other cities, police officers are prohibited from pursuing anyone riding a dirt-bike, because of the high risk of accident and injury. Police officers are also prohibited from using deadly force “ unless they have an objectively reasonable belief that they must protect themselves or another person from death or serious bodily injury.” DJ was running away from Officer Pownall, attempting to flee and end the conflict. Previously in possession of a gun or not, there was no immediate danger to police or bystanders.
Police video, police reports, and eyewitness accounts differ on details but essentially agree that DJ was running away from the cop when he was shot and killed. DJ was hit by 3 bullets in the back and buttocks. A gun was found at the scene which is reported to belong to DJ. Amazingly, even the Police Commissioner Richard Ross had said that after watching the released video of the shooting that it has “given him pause”. Apparently he is still paused, because the people of Philadelphia, including David Jones family, are still waiting for the prosecution of Ryan Pownall after months of “investigation”.
Shockingly, DJ’s June 2017 murder is not the first time Officer Pownall shot a fleeing suspect in the back. In 2010, Ryan Pownall shot Carnell Williams-Carney, another Black Philadelphia man, in the back as he fled from an altercation during a ‘stop-and-frisk’ in Frankford. Williams-Carney didn’t die after Pownall lodged a bullet in his spine, but is forever disabled, permanently losing the use of both his arms and legs.
After the 2010 shooting, the City Solicitor’s Office investigated the incident, but dropped their case against Pownall. Afterwards, Williams-Carney’s family filed a civil suit against the PPD, but Pownall was found not guilty again. He returned to his job patrolling Philadelphia streets without consequences.
DJ is not the first Black murder victim of 15th Police District officers. Officer Nicholas Carrelli shot a fleeing Brandon Tate-Brown during a traffic stop in Mayfair in December 2014. Tate-Brown’s family has brought a federal lawsuit against the PPD after no one was held accountable for Brandon’s killing.
The tenor of recent protests held by DJ’s family and friends outside the 15th District headquarters and outside the District Attorney’s office have been that of grief and anger. Authorities have been silent on details of their purported investigation, but few have any reason to believe that Officer Pownall or the PPD as a whole will be held accountable for DJ’s murder.
The PPD’s systemic violence against Black and Brown people must end. Officers, specifically in the 15th District, have detained, shot and killed community members with complete impunity. Unfortunately, state-sponsored violence will continue unless we unite as a movement against police violence and organize to make concrete demands on this broken system.
To win Justice for DJ and other victims of police brutality and to halt future killings and daily harassment in our neighborhoods, we must exert sustained pressure on public officials and the PPD.
Many of our elected officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney, have made unfulfilled promises to enact important reforms. First, there is immediate action they can take to prosecute Officer Ryan Pownall under the full extent of the law. Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Ross can end Stop and Frisk as a PPD policy. Additionally, Philadelphia has a Police Advisory Commission with no legal authority to hold the police accountable. The City can legally empower this Board to act.
We call on Mayor Kenney, Police Commission Ross, and District Attorney Hodge to:
- Prosecute and Jail killer cops like Ryan Pownall and Nicholas Carrelli. The PPD and the City must move forward as quickly as possible to prosecute Ryan Pownall and hold him accountable for his actions on June 8th and other documented misconduct on the job.
- Immediate End to the Racist “Stop and Frisk” policing policy, which overwhelmingly criminalizes and injures people of color and feeds Trump’s deportation machine. Mayor Kenney ran on ending Stop and Frisk as Mayor and he should act NOW to end it.
- Put the PPD under the control of an elected civilian review board with real teeth: full powers over department policies, enforcement priorities, investigations, and selecting new leadership. Philadelphia needs democratically elected community oversight boards with full powers over the police, including department policies and procedures.
- End Cash Bail and Civil Asset Forfeiture, leave money in the hands of families impacted by excessive policing of Black and Brown communities.
- End the War on Drugs! Stop prosecution for small amount of marijuana, end cooperation with DEA, expand the city’s drug courts and diversion programs for low-level offenders.
- No Tolerance for White Supremacist police and other law enforcement officers who openly espouse racist ideas or body art or distribute racist literature.
- End Excessive Sentencing and Solitary Confinement
- Keep Philly a Sanctuary City and Close Berks Detention Center — no detentions or deportations for our immigrant brothers and sisters. No collaboration with ICE or state or federal immigration authorities.
- Police out of Philly Schools! Our schools must be safe spaces for children to learn and grow.