The Philadelphia Police Department on Monday evening released the names of the five officers who fired shots during an alleged gun battle while stopping a vehicle in Logan last week that left a 24-year-old man dead.
The department also said that the officers incorrectly believed that James Alexander had an outstanding warrant for “bail jumping” in Wisconsin, which led them to attempt to arrest Alexander.
“Police later learned that the ‘bail jumping’ warrant for James Alexander returned on a different individual, similarly named, with a similar date of birth, but differing FBI number,” the department said in its updated statement.
In response to written questions from an Inquirer reporter, the department said the officers had intended to investigate everyone in the car and were in the process of having all the occupants exit the vehicle when the gunfire erupted.
Alexander “would not have necessarily been placed under arrest at the scene if the officers were able to determine that he was not the individual coming back with a warrant (and this would also be assuming that he was not illegally carrying the firearm that he later fired at our officers),” the department said in its written response.
“The officers were in the process of removing ALL of the individuals from the vehicle as they conducted their investigation. At the time, 3 of the 4 individuals in the vehicle were coming back with warrants. 2 of those warrants are active. It wasn’t determined that the warrant on Mr. Alexander was for a different individual until he was fingerprinted,” the department said in its response.
There were four occupants in the blue Kia Optima sedan that Officer Christopher Burton, 28, and Officer Charles McCairns, 29, stopped about 6:45 p.m. April 7 on Somerville Avenue at 15th Street because the car allegedly had run through a stop sign.
The Police Department said in a statement on April 8 that the officers ran checks on the occupants and found that Alexander had the warrant from Wisconsin, and that the driver had a warrant for some type of probation or parole violation.
“Due to the wanted status of the two (2) individuals, Officers Burton and McCairns requested additional back-up officers via Police Radio,” the department said in its statement Monday evening.
The department said in its written response to the Inquirer that even if only the driver had an active warrant, the two officers would have called for backup because of the potentially volatile nature of traffic stops.
Four other uniformed officers arrived. The three who fired shot are Officer Michael Braun, 30, and his partner, Officer David Tamamoto, 40, along with Officer Matthew Ponente, 29. Ponente’s partner did not fire his sidearm and was not named.
“Officers Burton and Braun approached the driver’s door and requested him to exit the Kia, and he complied,” according to the police statement.
“Officers McCairns and Tamamoto approached Alexander on the passenger side,” the department said.
“Officer McCairns opened the rear passenger door and requested Alexander to exit the vehicle. Officer McCairns instructed Alexander to leave his cell phone in the vehicle and asked Alexander if he had a gun on him,” the department said.
The department alleges that Alexander then pulled a gun from the front of his waistband and McCairns then yelled, “He’s got a gun,” and backed away, as did Tamamoto and Ponente.
“Alexander, still positioned in the vehicle, discharged his weapon in the direction of police, who had positioned themselves on the passenger side of the Kia,” the department alleges.
Alexander then got out of the Kia and fired two more shots in the direction of the police, according to the statement.
The five named officers then fired at Alexander, striking him.
Police transported Alexander to Einstein Medical Center, where he was quickly pronounced dead.
Ponente suffered a gunshot wound to his left foot. His partner took him to Einstein and he was treated and released.
None of the Kia occupants nor any bystanders was hurt.
A .40-caliber, semiautomatic Ruger handgun that Alexander allegedly fired was taken into evidence.
Three spent shell casings matching that caliber were recovered at the scene.
Twenty-eight spent shell casing from rounds fired by the officers also were recovered.
According to the department, two occupants of the Kia told investigators afterward that “Alexander announced that he had a gun on his person, and stated that he could not go back to jail.”
The department said body-cam video from the officers shows a cloud of smoke inside the Kia at the time Alexander allegedly fired a shot, and then another cloud of smoke when he was outside and allegedly fired two more shots.
The department said it would show the body-cam video to Alexander’s family but had no plans for a public release.
The department’s Internal Affairs unit is investigation the shooting.