Philadelphia Ex-Cop Convicted In 2017 Fatal Shooting Of Unarmed Black Man
A jury convicted a former Philadelphia police officer on Wednesday of the 2017 fatal shooting of a 25-year-old unarmed Black man in what was described as the city’s first murder trial in almost half a century for a civilian’s death at the hands of law enforcement.
Eric Ruch Jr., 34, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime in the killing of Dennis Plowden. The jury found Ruch not guilty of third-degree murder. The ex-officer was denied bail, and his sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 17.
Ruch was in an unmarked police vehicle on Dec. 27, 2017, when he spotted Plowden driving a car the officer claimed he believed was connected to a homicide case, and he called in for more backup. But prosecutors argued that Ruch’s message to other police officers contained no information indicating that anyone confidently knew the vehicle may have been involved in a homicide.
The increase in police cars led to a high-speed chase that prosecutors said lasted about 2½ minutes, until Plowden crashed into several parked cars and a pole. Plowden was reportedly dazed and sitting on the ground while raising his left hand to try to obey police commands when Ruch shot him in the head. Plowden was shot about six seconds after Ruch arrived on the scene.
Ruch and other officers who were at the scene, none of whom was equipped with a body camera, claimed that they believed Plowden was using his right hand to reach for a weapon in his jacket. But prosecutors accused the officers of lying, arguing that Plowden could not pose a threat when he was dazed, on the ground and defenseless. There was no gun found on the man after he was shot.
The Philadelphia Police Department fired Ruch about 10 months after the shooting. Former Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who was responsible for the firing, said that Ruch used “poor tactics” and went “too far” in killing Plowden, according to WCAU-TV.
A grand jury in 2020 recommended four criminal charges against Ruch, including one for first-degree murder. The first-degree charge was later thrown out.
Ruch’s prosecution was one of three homicide cases brought against police since progressive Larry Krasner became Philadelphia’s district attorney in 2018. The other two are pending and accuse Ryan Pownall in the death of 30-year-old David Jones, as well as Edsaul Mendoza in the death of 12-year-old Thomas “TJ” Siderio. Pownall and Mendoza were also dismissed by the police department after the killings.
Before Krasner, the last time Philadelphia held a murder trial for law enforcement in the death of a civilian was almost 40 years ago, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. A jury acquitted former police officer John Ziegler in 1984 in the fatal shooting of a teenager.
In a statement on Wednesday, Krasner thanked the jury and he thanked his team for their work on the case. He said he will “say more about this trial” upon Ruch’s sentencing in November. Plowden’s family had already won a $1.2 million wrongful death settlement from the city.