Philadelphia cop who shot unarmed black motorist begins trial

After fatally shooting an unarmed Black man in 2020, trial for Philadelphia cop begins

A white Philadelphia police officer became distraught when he learned that a Black motorist he fatally shot after a high-speed chase was unarmed, his lawyer said as the ex-officer’s third-degree murder trial began Tuesday.

Prosecutors said that former Officer Eric Ruch Jr. shot and killed Dennis Plowden Jr. less than six seconds after arriving on the scene — even as other officers held their fire. A grand jury investigation found that Plowden, 25, was dazed after crashing the car and had his left hand raised as he tried to follow commands on a city sidewalk.

However, defense lawyer David Mischak told jurors that Plowden’s right hand remained hidden near a pocket. Only later, he said, did Ruch learn what was inside.

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"As soon as my client discovered it was heroin and not a gun, he was upset. He was distraught," Mischak said.

He urged jurors to consider not just what happened in the six seconds at the scene, but the two-minute chase beforehand. Police thought the car was linked to a recent homicide. Plowden, who had borrowed the car and was not involved in that case, drove at high speed for several blocks through a city neighborhood before crashing.

Eric Ruch Jr., pictured here on Oct. 9, 2020, shot and killed Dennis Plowden Jr. after less than 6 seconds on the scene, claiming he thought Plowden was reaching for a gun at the time of the shooting.

Eric Ruch Jr., pictured here on Oct. 9, 2020, shot and killed Dennis Plowden Jr. after less than 6 seconds on the scene, claiming he thought Plowden was reaching for a gun at the time of the shooting. (Philadelphia Police Department via AP)

"It was a tragedy," Mischak said of Plowden’s death. "To call my client a criminal really compounds that tragedy."

Ruch is one of three city police officers facing murder charges filed by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner over their on-duty actions. In his case, the jury will also weigh voluntary manslaughter and a weapons charge.

The bullet from Ruch's gun went through Plowden's raised left hand before hitting him in the head. He died at a hospital the following day, according to testimony from his widow, Tania Bond, who briefly took the stand. She won a $1.2 million wrongful death settlement from the city.

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Krasner brought dozens of lawsuits against police as a civil rights lawyer and has battled with city police since taking office in 2018.

Ruch was fired about 10 months after the Plowden shooting.

In a key pretrial ruling, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Barbara McDermott barred prosecutors from telling jurors about a series of complaints filed against him during his 10-year police career because he was mostly cleared of wrongdoing by internal affairs, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

And she limited Bond's testimony to a few basic facts on Tuesday. However, in an interview with The Associated Press after the charges were filed in 2020, the widow wondered whether Ruch felt any remorse.

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"I just want to know, has Ruch ever thought about my family?" she asked.