By Sandy Malone and Holly Matkin
Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a challenge by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to the law governing how and when officers can use deadly force and said prosecutors seemed “driven by a win-at-all-cost office culture” that treated cops differently.
The state’s highest court said in a 4-to-2 decision that it agreed officer-involved shootings warranted “serious examination, by every facet of government as well as those outside of it,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
However, the court ruled that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office chose the wrong venue — the trial of former Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall — to try to change the state law on officers’ use of deadly force.
“Doing as the DAO asks … would essentially criminalize conduct the General Assembly has deemed noncriminal,” Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty wrote.
Then-Officer Pownall fatally shot 30-year-old David Jones on June 8, 2017 after he found a gun on the dirt bike rider during a traffic stop, CNN reported.
Jones began fighting with the officer and refused to comply.
During the fight, Officer Pownall drew his weapon and attempted to shoot Jones in the head, but the gun jammed, according to court documents.
At that point, Jones broke away from him and began to run away. The officer opened fire, hitting Jones twice in the back.
Jones was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Police recovered Jones’ weapon nearby where he had discarded it as he fled.
Investigators determined that Officer Pownall’s first attempted shot – which jammed – was justified, but that the subsequent rounds were not even though the officer thought Jones was still armed when he shot him.
The district attorney charged the officer with murder for killing the convicted felon who was prohibited from having a gun, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
However, thet law explicitly allows officers to shoot fleeing felons who pose a danger to the community.
The district attorney’s office told the court it specifically took issue with that section of the law that says cops can shoot suspects who “committed or attempted a forcible felony or is attempting to escape and possesses a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless arrested without delay.”
The district attorney’s office argued that the way the law was written authorizes law enforcement to use deadly force in certain situations “even if he does not believe such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Krasner’s office said it did not ask the court to rule on the constitutionality of the use-of-force law, but that it did request that the judge instruct jurors to “interpret the statute in a constitutional manner” with regards to the third-degree murder charge against Pownall.
After the court ruled against Krasner’s challenge to the state’s use-of-force law, Dougherty also took the unusual step of filing a concurring opinion that blasted Krasner for his office’s handling of Pownall’s case.
The judge said Krasner’s office hadn’t properly instructed grand jurors on the law when the panel was deciding whether to indict Pownall, that it went to “disturbing” lengths to keep the officer from having a preliminary hearing, and then sought to “rewrite the law and retroactively apply it to Pownall’s case” before the officer went to trial, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“Little that has happened in this case up to this point reflects procedural justice,” Dougherty wrote. “On the contrary, the DAO’s prosecution of Pownall appears to be ‘driven by a win-at-all-cost office culture’ that treats police officers differently than other criminal defendants.”
“This is the antithesis of what the law expects of a prosecutor,” the judge wrote.
Krasner’s office has not said whether they will appeal the ruling to U.S. Supreme Court, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court exists to review the constitutionality of legislation. They failed to meet that obligation here. We respectfully disagree with the majority opinion,” Krasner spokeswoman, Jane Roh, said after the decision was announced.
Pownall is scheduled for trial next month although the date was expected to be delayed, again.