The third-degree murder trial of a former Philadelphia police officer accused of fatally shooting a Black motorist commenced on Tuesday. According to The Associated Press, Officer Eric Ruch Jr. fatally shot Dennis Plowden Jr. following a high-speed chase. But the former police officer’s lawyer on Tuesday 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.
Besides Ruch, two other Philadelphia police officers have also been charged with murder over their actions while on the job, The Associated Press reported. And besides his murder charge, the jury is also exploring if Ruch should face a voluntary manslaughter and weapons charge. The former police officer was relieved of his duties 10 months after the fatal encounter.
Tania Bond, who is Plowden’s widow, testified on Tuesday. She said her husband succumbed to his injuries at a hospital the day after he was shot. Last year, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the city agreed to pay her $1.2 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Ruch had served on the police force for 10 years. But during his years on the job, a number of complaints were filed against him. During a pretrial hearing, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Barbara McDermott reportedly prevented prosecutors from notifying jurors about the complaints as internal affairs determined he did not commit any wrongdoing in most of the complaints.