Former Philadelphia officer sentenced for fatal 2017 shooting of unarmed man

A former Philadelphia police officer who was convicted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist has been sentenced to 11.5 to 23 months in prison. 

Eric Ruch Jr. says he feared for his life when he fired the fatal shot that killed 25-year-old Dennis Plowden Jr. six seconds after Ruch arrived on the scene. 

Ruch stood trial on the charges of third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime in connection with Plowden's shooting death in December 2017. 

On the night of the shooting, police say officers dressed in plainclothes in an unmarked vehicle noticed a white sedan authorities said was wanted in connection with a homicide. 

The officers requested marked patrol cars respond to assist them with stopping the car, which Plowden and a 27-year-old woman were sitting inside. 

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Investigators say police followed the vehicle to 16th Street and Nedro Avenue, where they say Plowden stopped the car. According to authorities, as officers exited their vehicles to approach Plowden, he drove off at a high rate of speed, crashing into two parked cars. 

After the crash, police say Plowden attempted to flee on foot as he was being chased by officers who drew their firearms and gave commands for him to stop and show his hands. 

At that time, Plowden put his hand in his jacket pocket and Ruch fired a single round, shooting Plowden in the head, according to police. 

Plowden was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where he later died from his injuries. 

Ruch was later suspended with intent to dismiss in 2018 and then-Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the crash and airbag deployment of the car Plowden was in warranted "the conclusion that Plowden was likely dazed and disoriented, particularly because he was seated on the curb." 

Ross said Plowden executed "poor judgment in fleeing" but noted Ruch could have taken cover, as three other officers on the scene did not fire their weapons. 

In September 2022, a jury convicted the former police officer of voluntary manslaughter, rejecting the more serious murder charge in the case. 

Judge Barbara McDermott said to a packed and emotional courtroom on Thursday that she considered Ruch’s good behavior before and after the tragic shooting, saying, "Nothing he is going to do in prison is going to make him a better person." She said she also had to look at the circumstances that started the tragic night and said "Plowden was the one that created the danger."

Judge McDermott said she received dozens of letters from Ruch’s family, friends, members of PPD and people in the community.

Ruch’s neighbors and wife were among those who read emotional impact statements, as did Plowden’s mom, wife, and sister, through tears.

Ruch broke down multiple times and briefly spoke, saying he thinks about Plowden’s family every day.

"He was placed in a very dangerous situation and because of the acts of others he was confronted with a very hectic and chaotic scene," says Rush's attorney David Mischak. 

"The verdict in this case reflected that he overreacted, but he’s very thankful and grateful that the court considered him, his background, and his character because Erich Ruch lived his whole life as someone who is very selfless."

The 34-year-old, who spent nine years with the Philadelphia Police Department, is one of three city police officers Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has charged with murder for on-duty actions.

Plowden's widow, Tania Bond, who briefly testified at the trial, won a $1.2 million wrongful death settlement from the city.

"I wasn’t surprised, I was far from surprised, but I was very disappointed," Bond said. "I think the number one reason us as a family was disappointed, was, who waits 5 years to come to court to hear 11 to 23 months?"