Philadelphia, PA – A fired Philadelphia police officer was sentenced to prison on Thursday for fatally shooting a convicted drug dealer who rammed multiple vehicles during a high-speed pursuit in 2017.
A jury convicted ex-Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) Officer Eric Ruch of voluntary manslaughter in September in connection with the Dec. 27, 2017 shooting death of 25-year-old convicted felon Dennis Plowden, WPVI reported at the time.
Ruch, 34, faced up to 20 years in prison, but Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott determined he had demonstrated good behavior since he was charged and that a lengthy sentence would not provide him with opportunities for rehabilitation, according to WPVI.
“Nothing he is going to do in prison is going to make him a better person,” McDermott said during the former officer’s sentencing hearing on Nov. 17.
The judge further noted that Plowden was the one responsible for creating the chaotic and dangerous series of events that led to his death, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“[Plowden] was the one who created the larger danger that the officers found themselves in,” she said.
McDermott ultimately sentenced Ruch to 11 to 23 months, WPVI reported.
He will also have the opportunity for parole.
No financial penalties were imposed, WPVI reported.
Plowden’s widow, Tania Bond, said she was “disappointed” by the sentence, but that she “wasn’t surprised,” according to the news outlet.
“Who wastes five years to come to court and hear 11 to 23 months?” Bond asked. “Did we value Dennis’ life or did we just throw something out there to feel like we shut the family up and feel like we satisfied?”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s spokesperson said prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the sentence and that they are “reviewing options,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The incident began just after 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2017, when Officer Ruch, then 30, spotted a 2013 Hyundai that was wanted in connection with a homicide, WCAU reported.
Although police later said Plowden was never a suspect in the homicide, the “patrol alert” issued to officers ahead of the confrontation indicated the occupants inside the Hyundai could be armed and dangerous, according to The Philadelphia Tribune.
Investigators later determined that Plowden had a valid warrant for his arrest due to unpaid fines at the time of the incident.
In addition to his outstanding warrants, Plowden was awaiting trial for driving with a suspended license and driving under the influence, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
He was also on probation due to a 2016 conviction of felony possession with intent to deliver drugs.
Officer Ruch, who was driving an unmarked patrol vehicle, followed the Hyundai as he radioed for additional officers to respond, WCAU reported.
He was able to stop Plowden at the intersection of Nedro Avenue and 16th Street, just as three other officers arrived at the scene.
But as the officers approached the suspect’s vehicle, Plowden hit the accelerator and crashed into the passenger door of one of the patrol vehicles.
One officer was also hit by the fleeing vehicle, WCAU reported.
Plowden raced down the street at speeds topping 75 miles per hour after the crash, then blew through a red light and a stop sign, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
He ultimately smashed into three parked vehicles near Opal Street and Nedro Avenue before he got out of the car and stumbled over to the sidewalk, where he sat down.
Multiple officers testified that the suspect alarmed them by making a quick motion towards his right pocket just before Officer Ruch fired his duty weapon, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Prosecutors said the suspect was too dazed from the crash to comprehend the orders police were giving him to show his hands, according to the paper.
Assistant District Attorney Vincent Corrigan went so far as to accuse Ruch’s fellow officers of lying on the stand “to try to help a friend beat a murder charge,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Corrigan insisted the now-former officer “shot a surrendering, unarmed man in the head” for no reason.
Ruch told the jury he feared for his life when he fired his gun at Plowden that day, WPVI reported.
Ruch said Plowden was sitting on a sidewalk with his left hand raised and his right hand behind his back – ignoring officers’ commands to show both hands – when he fired his duty weapon.
“The hand you can’t see is the hand that can hurt you,” the former officer testified, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The bullet traveled through Plowden’s left hand and into his head.
Investigators discovered after the fatal shooting that the suspect was concealing heroin in his hand when the round was fired, WPVI reported.
Defense attorney Davis Mischak said Ruch had no idea the convicted felon was unarmed.
“As soon as my client discovered it was heroin and not a gun, he was upset. He was distraught,” Mischak told the jury, adding that the shooting was “a tragedy.”
“To call my client a criminal really compounds that tragedy,” he added.
Prosecutors alleged Plowden posed no threat to the officers and claimed he was simply dazed after crashing his vehicle during the pursuit, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
A Philadelphia grand jury recommended in 2020 that Ruch be charged with first-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, third-degree murder, and possession of an instrument of crime, WCAU reported.
The first-degree murder charge was dropped prior to his trial, according to WCAU.
The jury rejected the third-degree murder charge in September, but convicted Ruch of voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime.
Ruch hung his head and cried while the verdict was read, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The 10-year PPD veteran was fired in the wake of the fatal shooting.
The city also paid out $1.2 million to Bond to settle her wrongful death lawsuit, WPVI.