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Judge Gives Ex-Philadelphia Cop Who Killed Unarmed Black Man Sitting on the Ground with a Hand Up a Lenient Sentence Because Prison Would Not ‘Make Him a Better Person’

A white former Philadelphia police officer received a sentence of fewer than two years in prison for killing an unarmed Black motorist in 2017 despite being convicted of voluntary manslaughter in September. The judge gifted him with a light sentence, as the maximum sentence he could have received was 20 years in lockup.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott sentenced Eric Ruch Jr., an ex-officer on the Philadelphia Police force, to 11½ to 23 months in prison in the 2017 deadly shooting of Dennis Plowden Jr, a 25-year-old African-American, as reported by The Associated Press.

Philly cop sentence killing black man
Philadelphia judge gives ex-cop light sentence

A trial highlighted how Ruch fatally fired his weapon within six seconds of arriving on the scene in the Ogontz section of Philly, where Plowden had crashed his car while being pursued in a high-speed chase by law enforcement. Prosecutors said Plowden was in the process of surrendering to the PPD when Ruch shot and killed him.

Plowden was in the car with a 27-year-old female companion and was shocked when they were accused of being connected to murder as they sat on 16th and Nedro Ave.

Eyewitnesses described during the five-day trial how Plowden was in a daze as he got out of his car after it crashed. After leaving the venue, he sat on the ground in a seated position and they witnessed Ruch fire one shot into his head. The bullet tore through Plowden’s left hand he was raising to surrender before entering his skull.

The injured man was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where he died from his injuries. 

Ruch and five other officers, including his former partner, testified during the trial, all saying they believed Plowden was armed and reaching with his right hand for his weapon.

“The hand you can’t see is the hand that can hurt you,” the former officer testified, justifying why he shot him, reports FOX 29.

However, Plowden had no gun.

What made matters worse is the original story placed Plowden in the middle of a murder investigation. Later it was determined he had no connection to the case, leaving prosecutors to question if Ruch had any accurate information when he initiated the stop.

It took three years for the officer to be charged for Plowden’s death and for inappropriately using his weapon. Though charged in 2020, it was not until two years later, in September of 2022, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and a weapons charge.

McDermott said there were two main reasons why Ruch received such a light sentence. One, she said, over the years since being charged with the killing, he has demonstrated good behavior. Two, she believed a longer sentence would not have afforded him any rehabilitation.

“Nothing he is going to do in prison is going to make him a better person,” the judge said. The judge took it a step further and blamed the victim, saying, “Plowden was the one that created the danger.”

Under this sentence, Ruch is also eligible for parole and does not have any financial penalties attached to this criminal case.

The Philadelphia Inquirer captured the initial response from Plowden’s family, who said they were “disappointed” but not “surprised.”

“I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed,” Plowden’s widow, Tania Bond, told reporters after the sentence was pronounced. “Who wastes five years to come to court and hear 11 to 23 months? Did we value Dennis’ life or did we just throw something out to feel like we shut the family up and we satisfied?”

District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office also commented, saying, since he took office in 2018, convictions on identical charges were set at 5½- to 11-year sentences on average— making Ruch’s sentencing stand out like a sore thumb.

He wrote a statement reminding the judge that the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission already gives judges an allowance to reduce a sentence by one year below the minimum recommendation, but even with that “this sentence falls far below state guidelines.”

The judge, who went lower than the state sentencing guideline minimum 4 ½ years of prison time, implied she would have given the former officer zero prison time but believed that would have undermined the severity of the voluntary manslaughter charge.

Ruch’s attorney David Mischak was pleased with the sentencing, saying his client “was placed in a very dangerous situation and because of the acts of others he was confronted with a very hectic and chaotic scene.”

“The verdict in this case reflected that he overreacted, but he’s very thankful and grateful that the court considered him, his background, and his character because Erich Ruch lived his whole life as someone who is very selfless,” Mischak continued. 

Assistant District Attorney Vincent Corrigan shared during the sentencing hearing that Plowden had a growing family. Plowden was rearing two children and three stepchildren. The youngest, who is only 5, has no real memories of his dad. He only knows his father as the person the family visits in the cemetery.

Plowden’s sister Diamond, said her life was altered when her brother was taken away from the family, saying, “My heart was ripped from me in six seconds. In six seconds, my life changed.”

But it was the man’s mother’s statement that was most penetrating.

Shanita McCoy looked at Ruch after the sentencing and said, “Eric Ruch still gets to see his wife in prison. I hope my son’s death haunts you every day.”

The 34-year-old former police officer spent nine years with the department before the incident.

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