Philly DA drops first-degree murder charges against former police officer

Philadelphia Police Department van

(Miguel Martinez/Billy Penn)

City prosecutors will not pursue first-degree murder charges against Eric Ruch Jr., the former Philadelphia police officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed Black man while on duty in December 2017.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will instead seek third-degree murder charges against Ruch, who is also charged with voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime in connection to the death of 25-year-old Dennis Plowden.

An investigating grand jury recommended that Ruch, who is white, face both charges at trial, and District Attorney Larry Krasner charged him with first-degree and third-degree murder in October.

“Our office seeks to apply the law fairly and evenly in all criminal matters, including in cases where defendants are police officers,” said spokeswoman Jane Roh.

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Former officer Eric Ruch and Dennis Plowden (NBC10)

During his formal arraignment on Monday, Ruch pleaded not guilty to all charges. The 33-year-old, who was fired from the force in 2018, is currently on house arrest after posting bail.

Ruch fired his gun directly at Plowden following a high-speed chase in East Germantown on Dec. 27, 2017, according to the grand jury presentment. A single shot traveled through the fingers of Plowden’s raised left hand before striking him in the head. He was pronounced dead at the hospital the following morning.

Family said Plowden was on his way to his mother’s house to drop off a Christmas present the night he was shot.

Plowden and Ruch crossed paths after Ruch, from an unmarked police vehicle, called police radio and asked them to run the car tag tied to the white Hyundai Plowden was driving.

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

A high-speed chase ensued, with two unmarked and two marked police cars tailing Plowden as he drove west on Nedro Avenue, according to the presentment. Roughly three blocks later, Plowden, traveling nearly 80 miles an hour, crashed into three parked cars before spinning into a pole and coming to a stop.

Less than 20 seconds later, Ruch shot Plowden, according to the presentment. Moments earlier, Plowden looked “dazed and lost on the sidewalk” after stumbling from the car crash.

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“Mr. Plowden appeared to have been trying to obey police commands as they were given, despite having just crashed his car at seventy-seven miles an hour, seconds before Ruch shot him in the head,” reads part of the presentment.

No other officer on the scene fired their weapon.

David Mischak, one of Ruch’s lawyers, said Monday that Krasner’s decision to drop the first-degree murder charge was “appropriate,” adding the former officer’s actions the night of Plowden’s death were “legally justified under existing law.”

“As a result, we are confident that at the end of this process, Eric Ruch will be exonerated,” said Mischak in an email.

A trial date has not been set.

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