A judge sentenced a white Philadelphia police officer to 11-23 months in prison on Thursday for the 2017 fatal shooting of an unarmed Black motorist. The officer had faced a potential 20 year sentence.
Eric Ruch Jr. shot and killed 25-year-old Dennis Plowden Jr. after arriving on the scene where Plowden sat on a sidewalk after crashing a car during a high-speed chase. Ruch, 34, was charged with voluntary manslaughter and a weapons charge and was convicted in September 2020.
While prosecutors pointed out that this conviction is the first for an on-duty killing in recent city history, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office said convictions on identical charges have yielded sentences between 5½-to-11-years on average since 2018 when he took office. Ruch’s fewer than two-year sentence dismayed Plowden’s family, and they say the former cop got a sweetheart deal.
Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott suggested she would let Ruch, 34, walk out of court with no prison time at all, but thought such leniency might diminish the severity of the voluntary-manslaughter charge, for which Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines require a minimum of 4½ years in prison.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer McDermott praised Ruch and said ”Nothing he is going to do in prison is going to make him a better person.” She noted that Ruch had demonstrated good behavior since he was charged two years ago and said she didn’t think a longer sentence would rehabilitate him. The judge said she gave Ruch “credit” for reportedly having a positive impact at a nursing home where he took a security guard job after being fired as a police officer in 2020. McDermott’s sentence also makes Ruch eligible for parole and carries no financial penalties.
Plowden was in the process of surrendering to officers following a car chase when he was shot. Witnesses said Plowden emerged in a daze from his crashed car and was defenseless as he was seated on the ground when Ruch fired one shot to his head.
Plowden didn’t have a gun on him, witnesses say he was raising his hands as if to surrender, and other Philadelphia officers challenged the accuracy of their department’s own crime-scene sketch depicting Ruch taking cover behind police cars when he shot Plowden.
Police originally claimed the Black motorist was driving a sedan connected to a murder investigation. They later concluded he had no connection to the case, and prosecutors questioned whether Ruch even knew about the wanted vehicle when he tried to stop Plowden in the first place.
Before sentencing Ruch, Judge McDermott blamed Plowden for causing the car chase, striking the open door of a police car, injuring an officer who was trying to exit the cruiser, and then crashing his own vehicle. “He was the one who created the larger danger that the officers found themselves in,” McDermott said.
In a statement, District Attorney Krasner noted that the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission recommendations do permit a judge to reduce a sentence by one year below the minimum recommendation. But “This sentence falls far below state guidelines,” he said.
A spokesperson for Krasner said the office is “reviewing options” and has 30 days to appeal the sentence to the Superior Court.