Philly police investigating after undercover cop fatally shoots unarmed driver

First Deputy Commissioner Myron Patterson, at podium, and Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, a police spokesman, talk to reporters Thursday at Philadelphia police headquarters about a deadly police-involved shooting in Ogontz. (Dana DiFilippo/WHYY)

First Deputy Commissioner Myron Patterson, at podium, and Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, a police spokesman, talk to reporters Thursday at Philadelphia police headquarters about a deadly police-involved shooting in Ogontz. (Dana DiFilippo/WHYY)

[Updated 4:54 p.m.]

A Philadelphia undercover officer who stopped a car wanted in a murder investigation shot the driver Wednesday night in the city’s Ogontz section after the man tried to escape.

The driver, 25-year-old Dennis Plowden, died Thursday morning.

Police now say Plowden was not armed — and he was not a suspect in the murder.

Investigators still are sorting out what happened, First Deputy Commissioner Myron Patterson said.

“The use of deadly force is the most serious action that any law enforcement officer can do,” Patterson said in a morning news conference at police headquarters. “We take it very seriously. We want to ensure that a very objective, transparent, and comprehensive investigation is conducted at this particular point.”

The incident started about 8:30 p.m., when two plainclothes cops stopped a 2013 Hyundai on Nedro Avenue near 16th Street after confirming it was connected to a Dec. 21 murder that happened about 5 miles away, on East Atlantic Street near Stouton in Harrowgate.

But before they could talk to the driver, he took off — hitting one of the officers as he sped away, Patterson said.

Police caught up with Plowden three blocks away, where he’d crashed into two parked cars at Nedro and Opal Street. He got out of the car, and things turned bloody.

“After repeated commands by the plainclothes officer to show his hands, he makes a furtive abrupt movement, and the officer fires one shot, striking the male in the head,” Patterson said.

Police said Plowden was sitting on the sidewalk and had put his hand in his jacket pocket when the officer began shooting.

Plowden died at 7:18 a.m. Thursday at Albert Einstein Medical Center, he added. A 27-year-old woman who was a passenger in his car wasn’t hurt or charged.

Investigators are knocking on doors, hunting for witnesses, surveillance video, and clues, Patterson said.

One question they aim to answer is whether the driver did, indeed, recognize that the undercover officers were cops.

Patterson believes he did.

The officers who stopped the driver were in plainclothes and unmarked cars. But they activated their emergency lights and identified themselves as police, Patterson said.

A similar shooting in 2014 resulted in new training protocols aimed at making it clear to the public that plainclothes cops are police.

In that case, undercover officers shot at a fleeing driver they mistook as a suspect. That driver — Phillippe Holland — turned out to be a pizza deliveryman who thought the plainclothes cops were robbers. He later sued — and the city paid more than $4 million to settle the lawsuit, the largest police payout in city history.

The man killed in the Ogontz shooting was the 13th person shot by Philly police this year — and the fourth to die, police data shows.

The rate of police-involved shootings has been falling in Philly since 2013, when then-Commissioner Charles Ramsey asked federal authorities to review the city’s use of deadly force and recommend reforms. The deadliest year this decade for police-involved shootings in the city occurred in 2012, when Philly police shot 59 people — 16 fatally.

Basil Harrison (Philadelphia Police Department)

Just one day before the Ogontz shooting, a Philly officer shot an armed robbery suspect in the chest in West Philadelphia. Suspect Basil Harrison survived and is at Penn Presbyterian Hospital in critical but stable condition. He was charged with robbery, aggravated assault, carjacking and related offenses.

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