RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A mother is suing the city of Richmond and the police officer facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the crash that killed her 19-year-old daughter for more than $200 million.
A grand jury indicted officer Richard D. Johnson on multiple charges in the April 7, 2022, crash that killed Tracey A. Williams and Jeremiah Ruffin, including two counts of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving.
Tiara Williams, Tracey’s mother, filed a federal lawsuit alleging Johnson was driving a police SUV without its sirens on and traveling at twice the speed limit when he went through a red light and struck the sedan Ruffin was driving at the intersection of W. Bells and Castlewood roads in south Richmond.
Ruffin, 18, and Tracey Williams, 19, were ejected from their vehicle after the collision and died from their injuries, police said.
“This is about justice and accountability,” the family’s attorney, Makiba Gaines, told 8News Monday. “Tracey was her mother’s very best friend, her father’s heartbeat. The family are all forever broken by this, literally trembling from grief.”
The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Virginia in December 2022, claims wrongful death and that Johnson deprived Tracey Williams of substantive due process rights under the 14th Amendment.
“Decedent Williams died as a direct and proximate result of JOHNSON’s gross negligence, carelessness, recklessness, willful and wanton conduct, and failure to exercise care,” the lawsuit claims. “But for JOHNSON’s negligence, decedent Williams would not have died.”
It further alleges the police SUV did not qualify as an “emergency vehicle” under state law and the police department’s policy, and that Johnson did not use the emergency sirens or take other steps to prevent the crash.
In a court filing responding to the lawsuit, Johnson denied the allegations against him and asserted that he “acted lawfully and with legal justification.” Johnson claims in his filing that he and another officer were responding to a breaking and entering, and “the police vehicle’s emergency lights and sirens were engaged.”
The city attorney’s office has filed a motion to dismiss the claims made against Richmond, arguing the city is protected from the wrongful death claim through “sovereign immunity.” The city also argues the lawsuit does not identify a specific policy Johnson was following that violated Williams’ constitutional rights.
Tiara Williams, the administrator of Tracey Williams’ estate, is seeking $200 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages, including attorney fees and other costs.
Gaines and other attorneys representing the family said they hope the case leads to policies to prevent similar crashes with law enforcement, saying it could have been “any of Richmond’s children.”
Johnson’s trial on his criminal charges is slated to begin on April 24. Attorneys for Johnson told 8News they had no comment on the case “other than the pleadings” in court.