news

Philly judge: FOP can challenge release of officers' names after police shootings

Chris Palmer, Chris Brennan, STAFF WRITER

Updated: Friday, August 25, 2017, 8:10 PM

John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.

A day after protesters gathered outside the Bustleton home of a police officer involved in a fatal shooting in June, a Philadelphia judge agreed Friday to allow the police union to challenge the release of names of officers involved in shootings.

Under the ruling by Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel J. Anders, to which both the city and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 have agreed, the city will wait 72 hours after an officer-involved shooting to release an officer’s name. But the union may seek an emergency petition within that time to stop the release if a shooting occurs before Sept. 29, when a full hearing on the issue is scheduled before Anders.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed Friday by the FOP seeking to block the Police Department’s policy of releasing within 72 hours the names of officers who shoot people. The suit, in turn, was filed in response to a small but raucous demonstration Thursday night outside the home of Officer Ryan Pownall, who fatally shot David Jones, 30, in North Philadelphia while Jones fled from a pedestrian stop on June 8. Police have said Jones reached for an illegal gun before he ran away.

The flurry of legal action Friday is the latest ripple in the months-long fallout from Jones’ death, which is under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office. Earlier Friday, State Rep. Martina White, a Republican who represents Northeast Philadelphia, released a statement criticizing the protesters as well as Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who she said did not take enough action to stop the protest.

“Black Lives Matter activists invaded a residential neighborhood without a permit, utilized bullhorns to spew profanity, and threatened an endless occupation of that neighborhood until their demands are met,” White said.

Kenney released a statement distancing himself from the demonstration, during which protesters gathered to call for Pownall’s firing and prosecution, using bullhorns and putting up posters that said Pownall was “wanted for the murder of David Jones.” A large police presence was also on hand to watch the protesters.

“There are many Philadelphians and officers who are productively working to build police-community trust, including pushing for transparency and reform, which Commissioner Ross and I both agree must continue,” Kenney said. “What happened [Thursday] night did nothing to move those efforts forward.”

The FOP’s suit argues that by continuing to release the names of officers involved in shootings, those officers will “suffer immediate and substantial harm, particularly with regard to their well-being and the safety of their families.” Pownall, the suit says, has been subjected to death threats, and his wife has feared for the safety of the children.

The suit argues that the city implemented the policy unilaterally in 2015, violating state labor laws. It asks for the court to block the department from enforcing the policy, thus preventing the officers’ names from being released within days of the incident.

Lauren Hitt, Kenney’s spokeswoman, said the city was “prepared to defend the policy.”

The policy has been the subject of previous debate over the past year. White, elected to the State House in 2015, has introduced a bill that would delay releasing officers’ names until 30 days after a shooting — a measure that Ross and Gov. Wolf have both said they oppose. Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed similar legislation last year after it passed through the Republican-controlled Legislature, and the governor’s spokesman said in March that Wolf’s opposition was unchanged.

Staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian contributed to this article.

Chris Palmer, Chris Brennan, STAFF WRITER

Read full story: Philly judge: FOP can challenge release of officers' names after police shootings