Former Philly police officer charged with murder for fatally shooting unarmed Black man

Former police Officer Eric Ruch, Jr. is being held without bail after turning himself in Friday morning. He was fired in 2018.

Former officer Eric Ruch and Dennis Plowden (NBC10)

Former officer Eric Ruch and Dennis Plowden (NBC10)

A former Philadelphia police officer is facing murder charges for shooting an unarmed Black man while on duty in December 2017.

Former Officer Eric Ruch, who is white, shot and killed 25-year-old Dennis Plowden following a high-speed chase in the East Germantown section of the city.

The 33-year-old, who was fired from the force in 2018, is now charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime.

He turned himself in Friday morning and is being held without bail on the first-degree murder charge, said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner during an afternoon news conference.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“At present, Eric Ruch remains innocent unless or until he is proven guilty in a court of law,” said Krasner.

On December 27, 2017, Ruch fired his gun directly at Dennis Plowden as Plowden had his left hand visibly raised in the air, according to the grand jury presentment. A single shot traveled through that raised hand before striking Plowden in the head.

Moments earlier, Plowden appeared “dazed” and “lost” after stumbling out of his car, which he had crashed into three parked cars before spinning into a pole, said Krasnser.

Ruch and Plowden crossed paths that night after Ruch, from an unmarked police vehicle, asked police dispatch to run the tag tied to the white Hyundai Plowden was driving.

Plowden’s family says he was on his way to his mother’s house to drop off a Christmas present at the time.

Plowden pulled over briefly, but then drove off, striking the open door of a second unmarked police car in the process.

The two unmarked cars and two marked cars then began to pursue Plowden until he crashed the Hyundai.

“Within six to eight seconds of arriving at the scene, former Officer Ruch shot Plowden,” said Kranser.

“It is indisputable that Plowden did not have a gun or any other weapon that night,” he added.

No other officer on the scene fired his or her weapon.

Tania Plowden, Dennis’ wife, said there’s no doubt in her mind that Ruch intended to kill her husband the night of the chase.

She’s pleased the grand jury investigation resulted in Ruch’s arrest, but said the charges against him are bittersweet.

“Despite Ruch being arrested, he’s still alive. He still has life. I lost my husband. So no matter how the outcome would have come out, I can’t get Dennis back, my son can’t get his father back. It’s just a loss for the family,” said Tania Plowden.

One of her hopes going forward: to hear Ruch express remorse over what happened.

In a statement, John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, said the union will represent Ruch.

“Our attorneys will review the allegations and appropriately defend this officer,” said McNesby.

“We will represent former police officer Eric Ruch Jr. against these serious charges. Officer Ruch Jr. is entitled to due process and we believe the judicial system will protect his rights to a fair trial.”

Ruch is the second former Philadelphia police officer to be charged with murder in the last two years.

Ryan Pownall — the first city cop to be charged in an on-duty fatal shooting in nearly 20 years —  is facing one count of third-degree murder for fatally shooting 30-year-old David Jones during a traffic stop in June 2017.

Prosecutors say Jones, who is Black, had an illegal gun tucked in his waistband when Pownall, who is white, pulled him over while Jones was riding a dirt bike in the Juniata Park section of the city. But they say Jones had already dropped the gun and was running away when Pownall shot him twice in the back.

A grand jury determined that Pownall was not in danger and should not have fired his service weapon, concluding that Jones’ death was unnecessary.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Pownall’s trial is scheduled to start on April 12.

In the meantime, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is pursuing a legal challenge to the state’s use-of-force law, which sits at the heart of the case.

Prosecutors argue that part of the law’s language is unconstitutional because it’s too broad, covering officers involved in fatal on-duty shootings even when those officers don’t believe deadly force was necessary to protect themselves.

A city judge rejected a motion to amend the language while giving jury instructions about when an officer can use deadly force.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania refused to hear the case. The District Attorney’s Office is now petitioning the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to take up the issue.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal