DISCLAIMER: The ideas expressed in this story are not endorsed by, directly affiliated with, or sponsored by the South Hampton Roads Bar Association. The South Hampton Roads Bar Association takes no position on the case of Tiara Williams, Administrator of the Estate of Tracey Ashanti Williams v. Richard Johnson, et al.
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – On the night of Aug. 7, 2022, a young couple was traveling in the southside of Richmond.
Around the same time, Richmond police officers were responding to a report of a break-in.
What happened next was a tragedy that’s now the subject of a $200 million federal lawsuit.
Tracey Williams, 19, a former Norfolk State University student, was killed on the scene. Her 18-year-old friend Jeremiah Ruffin died days later.
“It is very hard almost unbearable,” Williams’ mother, Tiara Williams, said while fighting back tears.
His father, Steven Hill, is emotionally depleted. He has lost a son and a daughter in deadly, police-related incidents.
“I’ve been lost for words for so long. I’m just empty inside,” Steven Hill said.
On April 7, Richmond Police officer Richard D. Johnson was behind the wheel when he allegedly ran a red light, plowed through an intersection, and killed the young adults – Williams and Ruffin. Johnson faces criminal charges in a trial this spring, but that’s not all.
Last year, Virginia Beach attorney Makiba Gaines and co-counsels Stephen Teague and Olga Pazilova filed a $200 million federal lawsuit against the officer and the Richmond Police Department.
Attorneys for the Williams’ family say the evidence is damning.
“Surveillance video indicates that officer Johnson was traveling at 70 mph in a 35 mph zone,” Teague said.
Said Pazilova: “He did not stop or even slow down in the intersection approaching the red light.”
Gaines said it is important for the federal jury to see the case.
“It’s important that we have that cross-section of people who understand the plight of this family and the pain,” Gaines said. “They are forever changed. They are forever broken.”
The city of Richmond is also a defendant.
It issued a response in federal court, saying it is protected by sovereign immunity. No trial date has been set in federal court, but the officer is due in criminal court April 24.