The family of a Black motorist killed by a former Philadelphia police officer said the convicted man received a “sweetheart deal” after he was sentenced to 11.5 to 23 months in prison on November 17, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In September, a jury found Eric Ruch Jr. guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Dennis Plowden Jr. in 2017. According to NBC Philadelphia, the former cop’s prosecution was the city’s first-ever police murder trial for a civilian killing. Ruch was acquitted of third-degree murder, but the jury found him guilty of possession of a criminal instrument.
Ruch faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted of voluntary manslaughter. However, the prison sentence imposed by Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott was less than the minimum state sentencing guidelines for the aforementioned charge, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The office of District Attorney Larry Krasner also stated that since he took office in 2018, people convicted on such charges have received an average sentence of four and a half to eleven years in prison. Ruch, who is eligible for parole, was also spared any fines.
McDermott stated during the sentencing hearing that giving Ruch a harsher prison sentence would have no effect on his rehabilitation. She also stated that the former cop had not acted inappropriately since authorities charged him in connection with Plowden’s death two years ago. “Nothing he does in prison will make him a better person,” McDermott said.
McDermott also hinted that if the charge of voluntary manslaughter had not been so serious, she would not have sentenced Ruch to prison. However, the family of the deceased Black man expressed their displeasure with the sentence, claiming it was too 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 criticized the sentence for what they saw as double standards. “I don’t think prison makes anyone a better person,” said Kris Henderson, director of the Amistad Law Project. “However, I believe this is a very clear example of the double standard that exists between law enforcement and everyone else.”
The Associated Press reported that Ruch fatally shot Dennis Plowden after a high-speed chase. However, the convicted man’s lawyer told the court on the first day of his trial that his client became distraught when he realized the man he had shot wasn’t armed.
Prosecutors said Ruch opened fire on Plowden, 25, just seconds after he arrived on the scene, adding that his fellow officers had held their fire at the time. During the police chase, the deceased Black man crashed his car. Following the crash, a grand jury investigation determined that he raised his left hand and attempted to obey commands. Plowden was also found to be dazed at the time, according to the jury.
Ruch’s attorney, David Mischak, argued that Plowden’s right hand was out of sight and close to a pocket. “My client was upset as soon as he realized it wasn’t a gun but heroin.” “He was upset,” Mischak told the jury.
Mischak also urged jurors to investigate the events preceding the fatal shooting. Plowden’s car was thought to be linked to a recent homicide, according to police. However, it was determined that Plowden was unrelated to the case and had borrowed the vehicle.
However, during the sentencing hearing, McDermott blamed the deceased Black man for leading police on a car chase, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. During the chase, Plowden is said to have collided with a police car. A police officer was also hurt.
“He was the one who created the larger danger that the officers found themselves in,” McDermott said.
According to 6abc, the District Attorney’s Office also mentioned how lenient the sentence was. “The minimum sentence for voluntary manslaughter with a deadly weapon is 54 months and the maximum sentence is 72 months,” the D.A.’s office said in a statement.
The district attorney’s office did not say whether it would file an appeal. However, according to a spokeswoman, prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the sentence.