Murder charge reduced for officer who shot black man in back

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A judge on Thursday reduced a murder charge against a white Philadelphia police officer who shot and killed a black man after a confrontation over a dirt bike last year.

Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Coleman reduced a first-degree murder charge against former Officer Ryan Pownall to a third-degree charge. The reduced charge enabled the judge to grant bail, set at $500,000.

Pownall was charged last month in the 2017 death of 30-year-old David Jones, who was shot in the back as he fled. He is the first on-duty Philadelphia officer to be charged with homicide since 1999.

Prosecutors said 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.

Police officials have said that Pownall tried to shoot Jones during the struggle, but that his gun jammed. Jones threw his gun down and fled, and Pownall fired at him, shooting him in the back.

The judge made the right decision, said Pownall’s attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr.

“We look forward to the opportunity to present our case before a fair-minded jury and when we do that, I am satisfied that a jury will find that Ryan Pownall’s actions were legally justified under the circumstances,” Perri said.

The judge on Thursday also granted the district attorney’s office petition to proceed straight to trial without a preliminary hearing.

“This is a major victory for justice because we are proceeding to trial,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement. “Nearly 20 years ago, judges twice tossed murder charges against the last on-duty officer who was charged with homicide. Judge Coleman’s ruling today means that history will not repeat itself and a jury will hear all the evidence in the case.”

Pownall, who served in the department for 12 years, was fired last fall.

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.”