Philadelphia, PA – A 10-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, who fatally shot a convicted drug dealer after a vehicle pursuit in 2017, will be fired for unjustifiable use of force, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced on Wednesday.
“The officer should’ve taken advantage of cover and concealment as the other three officers did,” Commissioner Ross said, according to WCAU.
“This would’ve afforded him the opportunity to deescalate the situation where time was on his side. The other officers did not fire,” he added.
The incident began just after 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2017, when Philadelphia Police Officer Eric Ruch, 30, spotted a 2013 Hyundai that was wanted in connection to a homicide.
The driver of the vehicle, later identified as 25-year-old Dennis Plowden, was traveling with a 27-year-old woman at the time.
Officer Ruch, who was driving an unmarked patrol vehicle, followed the Hyundai as he radioed for additional officers to respond.
He was able to stop Plowden at the intersection of Nedro Avenue and 16th Street, just as three other officers arrived at the scene.
But as the officers approached the suspect’s vehicle, Plowden hit the accelerator and crashed into the passenger door of one of the patrol vehicles.
One officer was also hit by the fleeing vehicle.
A short while later, police located two vehicles with extensive damaged parked further up Nedro Avenue.
Across the street, Plowden was sitting on a curb near the Hyundai with his right hand behind his back, police said.
Officer Ruch and three other officers confronted Plowden with their weapons drawn, and repeatedly ordered him to show his hands, Commissioner Ross said.
When Plowden failed to comply, three of the officers took cover, WCAU reported.
Officer Ruch fired a single shot, hitting Plowden in his left hand and head.
Plowden was rushed to the Einstein Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Although investigators later determined that Plowden was not involved in the earlier homicide, he did have a valid warrant for his arrest due to unpaid fines, The Philadelphia Tribune reported.
Commissioner Ross said Officer Ruch violated the department’s use-of-force policy, which allows the use of deadly force only when there is an “objectively reasonable belief” that the suspect presents a danger, according to the paper.
The Philadelphia Police Department’s Use of Force Review Board determined that Plowden was dazed and disoriented from the crash, WPVI reported.
Commissioner Ross asserted that Officer Ruch should have recognized that Plowden was suffering from the effects of the collision, The Inquirer reported.
He said the officer used poor tactics during the confrontation, and added that he “did not display the proper handling or discharge of his department issued firearm,” according to WCAU.
Officer Ruch was suspended by the department for 30 days with the intent to dismiss, the commissioner confirmed on Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, in a tragic circumstance like this, number one, somebody lost their life,” he said. “Number two, now somebody has lost their job. None of which should be taken lightly.”
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case in order to determine whether or not Officer Ruch will face criminal charges.
“We will represent Officer Eric Ruch Jr. against these latest allegations,” the Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement to WCAU. “Our attorney will gather all the facts of the case and appropriately defend the officer.”
Civil rights attorney Paul Hetznecker said he plans to file a federal lawsuit against the city and Officer Ruch on behalf of Plowden’s widow, Tania Bond, The Inquirer reported.
"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 civil rights attorney continued.
"The decision to fire Officer Ruch does not change the fact that Ruch used unlawful, deadly force on Dennis Plowden, who was unarmed,” he added.
At the time of his death, Plowden was awaiting trial for driving with a suspended license and driving under the influence, The Inquirer reported.
He was also on probation due to a 2016 conviction of felony possession with intent to deliver drugs.