Top Philadelphia police officials say a 10-year veteran of the force will be fired for violating department policy in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man two days after Christmas.
In late December, police were chasing a car driven by Dennis Plowden, a 25-year-old resident of East Germantown. Authorities believed his car was linked to a homicide.
Even though Plowden was not involved in the slaying, he attempted to elude police — possibly because of an open warrant for unpaid tickets.
The chase ended with Plowden crashing into a police vehicle before speeding away and hitting two parked vehicles.
At that point, four officers surrounded Plowden, who had stumbled out of the car and was sitting on a curb with one arm behind his back. Plowden looked dazed and disoriented, police said.
Three of them took cover to assess the situation, but Officer Eric Ruch opened fire. A single bullet pierced Plowden’s hand and struck his head, killing him.
The shooting violated the department’s use-of-deadly-force policy, which states an officer can shoot only when there is an “objectively reasonable belief” of danger and need for protection.
If Ruch, who is white, were following department policy, he would have assumed a safe position and attempted to de-escalate the episode.
“He did not do that, for whatever reason, thus putting himself in harm’s way and in turn being the only one to fire one fatal shot,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Wednesday.
It is the second time in recent years that Philadelphia police officials have fired an officer over a fatal shooting.
In September, Ross announced that Ryan Pownall would be let go from the force after he shot and killed David Jones, a 30-year-old who was unarmed at the time Pownall, who is white, fired at him.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who ran on a platform that included prosecuting law enforcement officers for wrongdoing, indicted Pownall on murder charges. It was the first time in nearly two decades an ex-cop in Philadelphia faced criminal charges over an on-duty shooting. The case is proceeding to trial. And the city of Philadelphia has paid out $1 million to surviving family members of Jones, who was black.
A Krasner spokesman confirmed that the Ruch case is under investigation.
Civil rights lawyer Paul Hetznecker, who is representing Plowden’s widow, commended the decision to terminate the officer. Hetznecker said city residents are safer with Ruch, 30, off the streets.
Still, he said, it “does not exonerate the Philadelphia Police Department as this decision should have been made long before Ruch killed my client’s husband.
“The decision to fire Officer Ruch does not change the fact that Ruch used unlawful, deadly force on Dennis Plowden, who was unarmed and lying on the ground.”
At a Wednesday press conference at police headquarters, Ross said though Plowden showed “poor judgment” by refusing orders to show his hands and running from police, nothing he did warranted the use of lethal force.
“At the end of the day, in a tragic circumstance like this, No. 1, somebody lost their life,” Ross said. “No. 2, now somebody has lost their job. None of which should be taken lightly.”