State investigating Philly police shooting of man on dirt bike

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The state attorney general has taken over the investigation of the death of David Jones, who a Philadelphia police officer gunned down in June during a traffic stop in North Philly, city and state officials confirmed Monday.

Officer Ryan Pownall was taking a family to the nearby special victims unit on June 8 when he spotted Jones, 30, on a dirt bike and decided to stop him near Whitaker and Hunting Park avenues, according to witnesses and police accounts of the case. But after Pownall got out of his cruiser to confront the biker, Jones ditched his bike and ran — and Pownall shot him three times in the back, according to witnesses and a diner’s surveillance cameras that captured part of the encounter. Police later said the shooting occurred because Jones was armed, although Jones had dropped his gun at the time he was running, a witness said.

Interim District Attorney Kelley Hodge asked the state to review the case, according to Cameron Kline, a spokesman for the D.A.’s office.

“Based on her review, there was an actual or apparent conflict of interest,” said Kline, who declined to detail the conflict. “Therefore, D.A. Hodge referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office, and the A.G.’s Office has accepted the referral.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke said he also asked A.G. Josh Shapiro’s office last week to take over, saying: “We anticipate it will take away some of the issues from the internal process of the police.”

Joe Grace, Shapiro’s spokesman, confirmed his office has the case: “We will conduct a careful and thorough review of the facts and the law, and make a determination based on the evidence.”

An internal investigation by the police department’s Independent Shooting Unit remains ongoing, and that probe is expected to wrap up within four weeks, mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said.

Activists have called for Pownall’s firing for weeks and questioned why the civilian-led watchdog group the Police Advisory Commission hasn’t investigated the case.

Today, two Black Lives Matter members interrupted a press conference Mayor Jim Kenney held at City Hall on his zero-waste environmental initiative to demand a federal investigation. Asa Khalif, organizer of Black Lives Matter’s Philadelphia chapter, and Isaac Gardner, the Jones’ family spokesman, confronted Clarke as he spoke at a podium.

“We don’t trust any type of investigation in this city,” Khalif said. “It should be an independent investigation by the federal government. We should bring the feds in to do this.”

Clarke responded that state officials already were looking into the matter. Monday afternoon, Clarke weighed in further, in a prepared statement issued by his office: “Any time a police officer is involved in the shooting of a civilian is cause for a timely and diligent investigation. Because of the circumstances in which Mr. Jones was shot and killed, including conflicting witness accounts and the troubling fact that he was shot from behind, we need a thorough investigation … His death and the weeks following have been painful for all parties involved. The pain being felt by Mr. Jones’ loved ones must be honored and respected, no matter the outcome of this investigation. We must also respect our passionate fellow citizens who are demanding justice in this tragedy. And we must never forget the victims of the hundreds of shootings that occur in Philadelphia every year. I look forward to the timely resolution of this investigation, and to seeing justice for all parties involved.”

This isn’t the first time in recent weeks the group has disrupted a press conference, and Khalif says it won’t be the last.

“David Jones’ life matters,” Khalif said. “This is what we are doing at Black Lives Matter. We are shutting things down, because black people are being abused, and we’re tired of it.”

The two protesters were not arrested, and the event ended after they left the room.

Jones was one of five men shot by Philadelphia officers so far this year, according to police data. Two died. Such shootings have dropped since 2015, when federal Department of Justice officials issued a lengthy report recommending reforms to reduce Philly officers’ use of deadly force, which previously had been rising.

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