Ten months after a Philly plainsclothes police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man who had just fled officers and crashed a vehicle that was sought in relation to a homicide investigation, the department announced that he will be fired for violating departmental policies during the shooting.
Officer Eric Ruch, Jr., 30, a 10-year veteran assigned to the 35th District, will be suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss for the shooting of 25-year-old Dennis Plowden on Dec. 27, 2017, in North Philly, who was unarmed at the time and is not believed to have had any link to the homicide in question. Three other cops on scene did not fire.
“Someone lost their life in this situation. These are difficult decisions that we make, we don’t take them lightly,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross during a press conference on Wednesday. “The other officers did not fire. No one ever saw Mr. Plowden with a weapon.”
Ross said Ruch believed Plowden was armed and fired once, killing Plowden as he sat on the curb after stumbling out of the car in which he had just sped away from two police vehicles and crashed into two parked cars.
Ruch violated the Philadelphia Police department police stating that an “officer shall not use deadly force against another person unless they have an objectively reasonable belief that they must protect themselves or another person from death or serious bodily injury.”
Some packets of heroin were found in the car and Plowden but was wanted for a “scofflaw warrant” for tickets, Ross said. No weapon was found on him or in the car.
At the time he encountered police, Plowden was operating a white Hyundai for which a patrol alert had previously been issued by police in relation to a Dec. 21 homicide on the 1800 block of East Atlantic Street. The vehicle’s occupants were “wanted for questioning,” and believed armed and dangerous, although no warrant was issued, according to Ross.
Six days later, on Dec. 27 around 8:38 p.m., the vehicle was spotted on the 1600 block of Nedro Street in North Philly by four officers in unmarked vehicles.
The vehicle stopped briefly, then turned, struck the other unmarked police vehicle, then took off at a high rate of speed westbound, and struck two parked cars – “virtually totalling” both of them, Ross said – before coming to rest on the 1900 block of Nedro Street.
The vehicle’s airbags deployed and Plowden was sitting on the curb with one hand behind him when the officers arrived, and did not respond to commands of “freeze, put your hands up,” Ross said. Ruch, who Ross said thought Plowden was armed, fired once. The bullet went through Plowden’s left hand and into his head, killing him. But Ross Plowden may have been “dazed and disoriented” from the crash and airbags being deployed at the time.
“Ultimately, this incident ended tragically, but Mr. Plowden also exercised poor judgment, when he fled at a high rate of speed through a residential neighborhood with a passenger unaware why he was fleeing the police,” Ross said. “The three other officers, including his partner, had taken cover and given themselves an opportunity to assess the situation. He did not do that for whatever reason, thus putting himself in harms way, and in turn being the only one to fire a fatal shot; the other three officers did not elect to fire.”
The shooting remains under investigation by Philly DA Larry Krasner.
“The incident is the subject of an ongoing and active investigation by our office,” a spokesman for the DA’s office said via email. “We have no further comment at this time.”