The family of a Black motorist who was fatally shot by a former Philadelphia police officer said the convicted man got a “sweetheart deal” after he was sentenced to 11.5 – 23 months in prison on November 17, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
As previously reported by Face2Face Africa, a jury in September found Eric Ruch Jr. guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the 2017 shooting death of Dennis Plowden Jr. The former cop’s prosecution was described as Philadelphia’s first-ever police murder trial for a civilian killing, NBC Philadelphia reported. And though Ruch was acquitted of a third-degree murder charge, the jury found him guilty of possession of an instrument of crime.
Ruch was facing up to 20 years in prison for the voluntary manslaughter conviction. But the prison sentence Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott handed to him was below the minimum state sentencing guidelines for the aforementioned charge, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office also said that since he assumed office in 2018, people who have been convicted on charges of such nature are on average sentenced to 4 and a half to 11 years in prison. Ruch, who is eligible for parole, was also not ordered to pay any fines.
During the sentencing hearing, McDermott said that handing Ruch a harsher prison sentence wouldn’t have an effect on his rehabilitation. She also said the former police officer had not behaved badly since authorities charged him in connection with Plowden’s killing some two years ago. “Nothing he is going to do in prison is going to make him a better person,” McDermott said.
McDermott also implied that had it not been for the severity of the voluntary-manslaughter charge, she wouldn’t have sentenced Ruch to prison. But the deceased Black man’s family registered their displeasure with the sentence, saying it was lenient.
“I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed,” Plowden’s widow, Tania Bond, said. “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 we satisfied?”
Criminal justice reform advocates also called out what they believed to be double standards in the sentence. “I don’t think that prison makes anyone a better person,” Kris Henderson, who is the director of the Amistad Law Project, said. “But I also think this is a really clear example of the double standard that exists when it comes to law enforcement and everyone else.”
Ruch fatally shot Dennis Plowden following a high-speed chase, The Associated Press reported. But during the first day of his trial, the convicted man’s lawyer told the court that his client became distraught when he got to know the man he had shot wasn’t armed.
Prosecutors said Ruch opened fire on Plowden, 25, a few seconds after he responded to the scene, adding that his other colleague officers had held their fire at the time. The deceased Black man crashed the car he was driving during the police chase. And following the crash, an investigation by a grand jury determined that he raised his left hand and attempted to obey commands. The jury also determined that Plowden was dazed at the time.
But Ruch’s lawyer, David Mischak, argued that Plowden’s right hand was out of sight and he had placed it close to a pocket. “As soon as my client discovered it was heroin and not a gun, he was upset. He was distraught,” Mischak told the jurors.
Mischak also encouraged jurors to also look into the events leading up to the fatal shooting. Police believed the car Plowden was driving was connected to a homicide that had recently happened. But it was established Plowden wasn’t connected to that case, and he had borrowed the vehicle.
But during the sentencing hearing, McDermott blamed the deceased Black man for leading police on the car chase, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Plowden is said to have hit a police car during the chase. An officer also sustained an injury.
“He was the one who created the larger danger that the officers found themselves in,” McDermott said.
The District Attorney‘s Office also made mention of how lenient the sentence was, reported. “Voluntary Manslaughter where a deadly weapon was used is a minimum of 54 months and a maximum of 72 months,” the D.A.’s office said in a statement.
The D.A.’s office did not disclose if it would file an appeal. A spokeswoman, however, said that prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the sentence.
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