Eric Ruch Jr.

Ex-Philly Cop Charged With Murder of Unarmed Man

Dennis Plowden was unarmed and raising his hand when an officer shot him, DA Larry Krasner said

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During a period of less than three minutes in 2017, police officers pursued a man, he crashed his car, and one officer fatally shot him -- while he was holding a hand up.

Now a Philly grand jury has recommended four criminal charges, including first-degree murder, for the city cop who shot and killed Dennis Plowden, an unarmed Black man.

The ex-officer, Eric Ruch Jr., was fired months after the Dec. 27 shooting. According to new details in the case, Plowden, 25, was dazed, sitting on the ground and raising his left hand when Ruch fired his service weapon at Plowden's head.

Plowden died the next day at a hospital.

"According to this presentment, Eric Ruch killed Dennis Plowden while on duty, by firing his gun directly at Plowden’s head as Plowden sat on the ground with his left empty hand raised and clearly visible," District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a news conference Friday.

"I mention that because the bullet tore through the fingers of that left hand before it entered Plowden’s head."

Minutes earlier, it was 8:30 p.m. on that 2017 night between Christmas and New Year's Day. Plowden was driving a 2013 Hyundai - which was registered to someone else - on Ogontz Avenue in Germantown, with a 27-year-old woman in the passenger seat.

Ruch was in an unmarked police vehicle and spotted the Hyundai.

In 2017 and 2018, police told news outlets that Ruch believed the vehicle was connected to a homicide case. But Assistant District Attorney Vincent Corrigan characterized the officer's frame of mind differently Friday.

“They called the number into police radio to stop a ‘mover,’ which is police slang for any moving vehicle. There’s no information on the police radio before the incident that indicates that anyone knew for sure that this vehicle may have been involved in a homicide," Corrigan said. "It’s my understanding since [then], that this is not an avenue of inquiry. The homicide in question is still an open case.”

After seeing the Hyundai, Ruch radioed in for backup and pursued it. Krasner said the time between that radio call and the fatal shooting of Plowden is about two minutes and 19 seconds.

An unmarked police vehicle pulled Plowden over and parked behind him, and a second unmarked cop car pulled over in front of Plowden to cut him off. But Plowden pulled away, striking the open door of the second unmarked car.

"The two unmarked cars along with two marked police vehicles pursued Plowden at high speed until he struck three parked cars, spun around, and finally stopped after striking a pole," Krasner read from the grand jury presentment.

That crash scene was "loud and chaotic" with multiple car alarms going off and officers shouting commands like "don't move" and "show your hands."

Plowden had just stumbled out of the Hyundai.

"According to evidence presented to a grand jury, Plowden looked dazed and lost on the sidewalk," Krasner said. "He had just stumbled from his car following a high-speed crash and appeared to be trying to obey police commands given by police officers at the scene at that time."

Krasner said Ruch shot Plowden within six to eight seconds of arriving at the scene.

Krasner was asked why the charges were coming now, close to three years after the incident. Corrigan had said earlier that there was a 12-month investigation. Delays due to the coronavirus pandemic the past several months only added to that.

"If we think about a case like the George Floyd case, that is a case where you have a video that captures a lot. A lot of what happened and exactly how it happened. And what we find in general in cases where police accountability is at issue, is where we have video evidence or very strong evidence, we can move more swiftly," Krasner said. "Because you don't have to piece together from eyewitness testimony and other sorts of less perfect sources of information. So it is more time consuming always when you have to look at a case where we do not have video that was focused on the crucial moment in the case."

Ruch is also charged with third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime. He turned himself in to police Friday morning and is expected to be held without bail on the first-degree murder charge, as is typical with suspects facing that charge, Krasner said.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, says the order's attorneys will represent Ruch Jr.

"Our attorneys will review the allegations and appropriately defend this officer," McNesby said. "Officer Ruch Jr. is entitled to due process and we believe the judicial system will protect his rights to a fair trial."

"We have been willing, when the evidence is there and the law is there, to try to hold everyone accountable, including police officers who have shot people, including police officers who have hit people with batons while on duty or have used OC spray or other types of pepper spray on duty," Krasner said.

NBC10's Stephanía Jiménez contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been updated to remove inaccurate information about the court timeline of the case.

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