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Philly cop is fired for fatally shooting unarmed man

A Philadelphia Police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man in East Germantown last December violated departmental policy and will be fired from the force, Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Wednesday.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross on Oct. 31, 2018, announces the firing of Officer Eric Ruch Jr., who fatally shot an unarmed man last December.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross on Oct. 31, 2018, announces the firing of Officer Eric Ruch Jr., who fatally shot an unarmed man last December.Read moreMENSAH M. DEAN / Staff

Saying that three other officers had shown restraint by not firing at an unarmed man on an East Germantown street last year, Police Commissioner Richard Ross on Wednesday announced that he was terminating Police Officer Eric Ruch Jr. in the shooting of Dennis Plowden Jr., who died after a bullet went through his left hand and into his head.

"The three other officers, including his partner, had taken cover and given themselves an opportunity to assess the situation," Ross said at a news conference at Police Headquarters. "He did not do that, for whatever reason, thus putting himself in harm's way and in turn being the only one to fire one fatal shot."

Ruch, 30, a 10-year veteran of the force who had been assigned to the 35th District in Ogontz, was given 30 days' notice with intent to dismiss for the Dec. 27, 2017, shooting of the 25-year-old.

"It's not a perfect world," Ross said. "Officers are not always able to take cover. But it is striking that three of the four do, and one does not."

The shooting capped a high-speed car chase that began when officers spotted Plowden driving a white Hyundai that had been connected to a homicide a week before, police said. On the day he died, Plowden, who was not a suspect in the slaying, was taking Christmas gifts to his mother, Chinita McCoy, in East Germantown.

The chase ended when Plowden's car crashed at high speed into two parked cars on Nedro Avenue at Opal Street. Plowden stumbled from the car, likely "dazed and disoriented" from the crash, and sat on the curb with his right hand behind his body, Ross said. Officers ordered him to show his hands, and he was shot soon afterward.

The dismissal marks the second time in two years that Ross has fired an officer for a fatal on-duty shooting. Last year, he fired Officer Ryan Pownall for the June 2017 shooting death of David Jones during a traffic stop. The District Attorney's Office in September charged Pownall with third-degree murder and related counts. He is free on bail awaiting trial.

Ben Waxman, a spokesman for District Attorney Larry Krasner, said their investigation into Plowden's shooting is not yet completed.

"These are difficult decisions that we make," Ross said of the decision to dismiss Ruch. "We don't take them lightly, despite what anyone might think, including police officers. There's no rush to judgment, which should be clear. This wasn't prompted by any protests or anything like that."

Paul Hetznecker, a civil rights attorney who said he plans to file a federal lawsuit against Ruch and the city on behalf of Plowden's widow, Tania Bond, welcomed the news of the officer's dismissal.

"I give credit to Commissioner Ross for making the decision to fire Officer Ruch, taking his badge and gun, and terminating his license to kill," Hetznecker said. "While the residents of the city of Philadelphia are safer because of this decision, this does not exonerate the Philadelphia Police Department, as this decision should have been made long before Ruch killed my client's husband.

"The decision to fire Officer Ruch does not change the fact that Ruch used unlawful, deadly force on Dennis Plowden, who was unarmed."

Ruch's union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said in a statement that it stands by him and will defend him.

Ross said the department's Use of Force Review Board determined that Ruch violated policy by discharging his weapon.  The policy, he said, states in part, "Officers shall not use deadly force against another person unless they have an objectively reasonable belief that they must protect themselves or another person from death or serious bodily injury."

Ruch should have recognized that Plowden was dazed from the crash on Nedro, which resulted in the car's airbags deploying, Ross said.

It was the second time in 2017 that Ruch had shot a man while on duty. He returned to duty a month after the first episode, in which an armed suspect was injured, police said.

No weapon was found on or near Plowden or in the Hyundai, and he did not own the vehicle. Police have declined to identify a female passenger who was in the Hyundai during the pursuit.

Plowden's relatives say they don't know who owned the Hyundai, and they don't know who the passenger was.

At the time of his death, Plowden was awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence and a summary offense of driving with a suspended license in January 2017. He was on probation after pleading guilty in 2016 to felony charges of possession with intent to deliver drugs three years earlier.

Staff writer Julie Shaw contributed to this article.