A judge on Thursday sentenced a white Philadelphia police officer to 11½ to 23 months in prison in the 2017 fatal shooting of an unarmed Black motorist, far less than the decades behind bars he potentially faced.
Officer Eric Ruch Jr. shot and killed 25-year-old Dennis Plowden Jr. six seconds after arriving on the scene as Plowden sat on a sidewalk upon crashing a car during a high-speed chase. He was fired from the department months later.
Ruch, 34, was charged in 2020 and convicted in September of voluntary manslaughter and a weapons charge. The voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
But during the sentencing, Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott said Ruch had demonstrated good behavior since he was charged and a longer sentence would not offer him any rehabilitation. The sentence also includes parole eligibility and carries no financial penalties.
"Nothing he is going to do in prison is going to make him a better person," McDermott said.
The judge's decision outraged Ruch's family.
"I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed," Plowden’s widow, Tania Bond, said outside the courthouse, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Who wastes five years to come to court and hear 11 to 23 months? Did we value Dennis’ life or did we just throw something out there to feel like we shut the family up and feel like we satisfied?"
During the trial, Ruch told jurors he feared for his life when he fired at Plowden. He said Plowden had his left hand raised, but kept his right hand hidden despite police orders.
Prosecutors said there was no justification to shoot Plowden, noting that several other officers took cover and held their fire.
The bullet from Ruch’s gun went through Plowden’s raised left hand before striking him in the head. He died the next day.
During the trial, the defense attorney asked jurors to consider the two-minute chase through a city neighborhood that preceded the shooting. Plowden was driving a car initially thought to be linked to a recent homicide. But authorities said that he was not involved in that case.
The jury rejected a more serious third-degree murder charge, but also convicted Ruch of possessing an instrument of crime.
Ruch is one of three city police officers who had been charged with murder for their on-duty actions by District Attorney Larry Krasner, a longtime civil rights lawyer who frequently sued police earlier in his career. A first-degree murder charge filed against Ruch was dropped before trial.
Krasner’s office has 10 days to appeal the sentence, though prosecutors declined to immediately comment, according to the Inquirer.
Plowden’s widow won a $1.2 million wrongful death settlement from the city.