The City of Philadelphia has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the widow of a man who was fatally shot by a police officer in December 2017, a city spokesperson said Wednesday.
The suit, filed by Tania Bond, whose husband, Dennis Plowden Jr., was shot in the head and hand by then-officer Eric Ruch Jr. following a car chase and crash in East Germantown, alleged that the Police Department ignored the officer’s “history of unconstitutional conduct,” and failed to discipline or fire him, setting the stage for the killing..
The settlement did not include an admission of wrongdoing.
Ruch, 33, was charged with murder and related counts in October 2020 and is awaiting trial. He was fired by the department in October 2018 as a result of the shooting.
At the time of Ruch’s dismissal, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the union that represents officers, said it stood by and supported him. Union spokesperson Mike Neilon declined to comment Wednesday.
In addition to Ruch, named as defendants were the city and three other officers who were with him that day: Anthony Comitalo, Mike Sidebotham, and Ryan Del Ricci.
Kevin Lessard, Mayor Jim Kenney’s deputy communications director, said city officials hoped the settlement would allow Plowden’s widow “to obtain closure from Mr. Plowden’s tragic death.”
Attempts to reach Ruch’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, were not successful.
Bond’s attorney, Paul Hetznecker, decried Ruch’s actions even as he welcomed the settlement.
“While the settlement provides some measure of justice for my client, it doesn’t diminish the loss of her husband and the fact that he was taken from her by the brutal act of a Philadelphia police officer,” he said.
“Although this case is over, my fear is that without significant change in the process of training, investigating and disciplining officers, the people of Philadelphia will continue to be victimized through the improper use of deadly force by Philadelphia police,” he added.
Ruch, a 10-year veteran assigned to the 35th District in Oak Lane, is the second former city police officer charged with committing an on-duty murder by District Attorney Larry Krasner. Shortly after being sworn into office in 2018, Krasner said his predecessors were “biased” for failing to charge police in fatal shootings.
Police said they began pursuing Plowden on the night of Dec. 27, 2017, because he was driving a borrowed Hyundai that had been linked to a homicide — although they later said he was not a suspect in the homicide. Plowden crashed the car on a Germantown street, then stumbled to the sidewalk and sat down.
Plowden, who was unarmed and who relatives said had been on his way to deliver Christmas gifts to his mother in East Germantown, “was shot and killed without justification by former Officer Eric Ruch,” the grand jury wrote in recommending criminal charges against Ruch in October 2020.
“Mr. Plowden was shot in the head, while he was unarmed, half lying, half sitting on the Opal Street sidewalk with his left hand raised in front of his head, as the officers shouted commands to show his hands,” the grand jury said.
That shooting marked the second time Ruch had shot someone while on duty. Ten months earlier, on Feb. 15, 2017, he and two other officers shot Tyler Nichols seven times in a West Oak Lane alley after a brief foot chase. The officers began following Nichols, they said, after seeing him leave a known drug area.
The officers said they fired after Nichols pointed a gun at them, while Nichols said he never pointed or fired the gun. Nichols, who was charged with gun possession and sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in jail, also filed a federal lawsuit against Ruch, alleging that the shooting was part of a pattern of abuse the officer had exhibited throughout his career.
That suit, also filed by Hetznecker, noted that Ruch had amassed 17 complaints from citizens who accused him of verbal or physical abuse, but said the department dismissed most of the complaints and never disciplined him for the few that were found to have merit.
The suit faulted the department’s early warning system for flagging troubled officers and called it “woefully deficient.”.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has said revamping the department’s system of tracking problem officers is “one of [her] bigger priorities,” although she said the department lacks funding to implement a new system. The current system, she said, “is not as robust as what I’m talking about. I’m looking for something that identifies risks before it happens, or that also identifies positives. Something we can replicate.”
Nichols’ lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in February.