PHILADELPHIA – A white Philadelphia police officer was arraigned Wednesday on manslaughter and weapons charges in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black motorist who was shot and killed six seconds after the officer arrived on the scene.
Officer Eric Ruch Jr. told jurors he feared for his life when he shot Dennis Plowden Jr. as the 25-year-old sat on the sidewalk after crashing his car during a high-speed chase. He said Plowden had his left hand up but had hidden his right hand despite orders from the police. The officer said he could not hide and was afraid he would be shot.
It was only later that he realized Plowden was unarmed, the defense said.
“Once my client found out it was heroin and not a gun, he got upset. He was distraught,” attorney David Mishak said in his opening statement last week.
Ruh, 34, bowed his head and cried after hearing the verdict Wednesday, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Soon he was taken into custody.
Jurors dismissed the more serious charge of third-degree murder, but also found Ruh guilty of possession of an instrument of crime. The manslaughter charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The verdict is scheduled for November 17.
Mischak noted that jurors did not believe that Ruh killed Plowden, although “the prosecution strongly sought a finding of culpable homicide.” since his client was charged. He said his client would consider his legal options going forward.
Ruh is one of three city police officers charged with murder by District Attorney Larry Krasner, a longtime civil rights lawyer who often sued police early in his career, for their actions on the job. A charge of first-degree murder against him was dismissed pending trial.
Krasner had little comment after the sentencing, thanking jurors for what he called their “noble and demanding” public service, but said he expected to say more during Ruh’s sentencing.
During the trial, the defense attorney asked the jury to take into account the two-minute chase through the city area that preceded the shooting. Plowden was driving the vehicle initially believed to be connected to the recent murder. However, authorities said he was not involved in the case.
“It was a tragedy,” Mischak said of the young man’s death. “Calling my client a criminal really complicates this tragedy.”
In a key pretrial ruling, Philadelphia Judge Barbara McDermott barred prosecutors from telling jurors about a series of complaints filed against Ruh during his 10-year police career because internal affairs authorities largely exonerated him.
Prosecutors said there was no reason to shoot Plowden, noting that several other officers took cover and did not return fire. A bullet from Ruh’s pistol passed through Plowden’s raised left arm before entering his head. The next day he died.
Rukh was fired from the police department after 10 months.
Plowden’s widow, Tanya Bond, who testified briefly at the trial, was awarded $1.2 million in damages from the city.
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