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Philadelphia Police Officer Makes History as First On-Duty Cop In 40 Years to Be Convicted of Killing Someone After Shooting Unarmed Black Man with His Hands Raised

A Philadelphia police officer has been convicted of voluntary manslaughter after he fatally shot an unarmed Black motorist. It’s the first case of an officer to be convicted for killing someone in the line of duty in four decades and one of nine to have been charged in the past 50 years.

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, a jury found Officer Eric Ruch Jr. guilty of shooting Dennis Plowden Jr. The victim was a part of a high-speed chase that ended in a collision and left him sitting on a sidewalk in East Germantown. In addition to the felony manslaughter conviction, Ruch was also found guilty of possessing an instrument of a crime and faces up to 20-plus years in prison, The Associated Press reported.

The jury deliberated for a little more than two days before reaching their verdict.

The prosecution also charged third-degree murder. However, he was found not guilty of that at trial.

Ruch alleges he believed he was in danger when he opened fire on Plowden on Dec. 27, 2017. As the 25-year-old sat on the sidewalk, the cop said he noticed he had one hand raised but the other one hidden. When officers at the scene told him to show his hands, he would not.

According to CBS News, other officers gave testimony stating there was an element of danger in the altercation and could see how their colleague was justified in shooting.

The prosecution said he was surrendering.

Not knowing if the African-American had a weapon or not and believing he would not be able to take cover if Plowden decided to shoot him, Ruch discharged his weapon six seconds after arriving at the scene. The bullet went through Plowden’s left hand and hit him directly in the head.

Plowden died the next day from his gunshot wound.

His quick judgment was proved to be wrong, as Plowden did not have a weapon. He had drugs in his obscured hand.

Ruch’s lawyer, David Mischak, said in his opening statements, “As soon as my client discovered it was heroin and not a gun, he was upset. He was distraught.”

He was even more distraught when he heard the verdict and was taken into custody.

Despite testimony alluding to the justification for the shooting, the prosecution highlighted the fact that none of the other officers shot at Plowden and “took cover” during the detainment.

Ruch, who had spent 10 years in the police department, was not immediately fired. He was let go 10 months after the shooting

Mischak believes District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office was pushing for his client to be convicted of murder but the jury did not believe the murder was appropriate.

He said, “Since my client was dismissed from the police department and formally indicted of charges including murder, the prosecution has vigorously pursued a murder conviction. The verdict reflects that the jury rejected that theory.”

Krasner, a former civil rights lawyer who started his career suing police officers, was elected as the 26th district attorney of Philadelphia in 2017 and since then has charged three city police officers with murder for their on-duty actions. Ruch makes history as the first on-duty officer in at least 40 years to go to trial for murder.

1984 was the last time a murder charge against a Philadelphia officer made it to trial, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. There have only been nine Philadelphia Police Department officers charged for taking a life while on duty in the past half-century.

Since then, two other officers have faced manslaughter charges, but have not been convicted. One was acquitted and the other’s case was dismissed.

Despite Krasner pushing for a first-degree murder conviction when Ruch was indicted on Oct. 9, 2020, that charge was dismissed by the time of the trial.

Ruch received the voluntary manslaughter verdict instead of the third-degree murder count because the Pennsylvania crimes code aligns his act with the lesser charges’ definition that says “a person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation.”

During the trial, Mischak wanted the two-minute chase that happened before the shooting to be submitted as evidence to the jury. Authorities originally believed Plowden’s car was involved in a recent killing and were hoping to apprehend him for that homicide.

The video was not permitted as evidence.

An investigation later determined after the young man’s death That the officers were chasing the wrong person.

Mischak called the mistaken identity and the shooting a “tragedy,” but added, “To call my client a criminal really compounds that tragedy.”

No one believes Plowden’s death was tragic more than his widow, Tania Bond.

Bond testified at Ruch’s trial. This is the second time she has gone to the courts to seek justice for her partner’s death. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia, alleging Ruch had a “history of unconstitutional conduct” that the department ignored. The City of Brotherly Love settled her civil suit for $1.2 million.

After the trial, Krasner did not speak a lot to the press, but he did thank the jurors for their “noble and demanding” public service.

The 34-year-old officer will be sentenced on Thursday, Nov. 17.

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