RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The family of a teen killed in an April 2022 crash with Richmond Police is speaking out, announcing a $200 million lawsuit against the officer involved and the City of Richmond.
In federal court last month, Tiara Williams Hill, the mother of Tracey Ashanti Williams, 19, filed the complaint, demanding a jury trial for the wrongful death of her daughter.
Officer Richard Johnson was charged in July with two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and two misdemeanors, all stemming from the fatal crash. Authorities said that both he and his partner were injured in the incident, which happened as they were responding to a burglary call. Jeremiah Ruffin, 18, ultimately lost his life as a result of the crash, as well.
Johnson’s trial is set for April 2023. But Williams Hill’s December filing is calling for an additional trial.
“The family is here to announce their $200 million lawsuit against Officer Richard Johnson, who killed their daughter on April 7,” attorney Makiba Gaines said during a news conference on Tuesday. “She had her whole life ahead of her, and she deserved to live.”
Williams and Ruffin were in a passenger vehicle that collided with a Richmond Police cruiser at the intersection of Bells and Castlewood Roads just before 11 p.m. that night. Authorities said that Williams, the passenger in a Buick, was ejected and pronounced dead at the scene. The other driver, Ruffin, suffered life-threatening injuries. He died less than two weeks later.
In court documents, attorneys for the Williams Hill family alleged that Johnson and his partner Daquan Walker were dispatched to a non-emergency call for service in the 1500 block of Clarkson Road, and that their 2016 Ford Explorer SUV was not qualified as an “emergency vehicle,” and Johnson was, therefore, required to drive the vehicle in compliance with all traffic laws.
But, in his response filed in court, Johnson said he “denies the allegations.” He also noted that the police vehicle’s emergency lights and sirens were engaged.
“There’s no price tag on my daughter’s life, or any of my children’s life,” father Steven Hill said. “But it’s just — yeah, somebody has to be accountable. That’s what it has to be accountable for. No amount of money in the world will ever bring my child back.”
Court documents filed by Williams Hill and her attorney also claimed that Johnson intentionally misused his police SUV by driving it “at a conscience-shocking speed of 70 miles per hour or more in a 35-mile-per-hour zone through a red light,” near family residences and pedestrian walking paths. Documents further noted that Officer Johnson “failed to look for approaching traffic before disregarding the solid red traffic light and entering the intersection, or he observed Ruffin’s vehicle inside the intersection and consciously failed to slow, stop, or otherwise maneuver his vehicle to avoid the fatal collision.”
In his court-filed response, dated Jan. 10, 2023, Johnson denied these allegations.
Senior Assistant City Attorney Wirt Marks has since filed a motion to dismiss the claims against the locality, as well.
“The City moves to dismiss both counts against the City because the Plaintiff [Tiara Williams Hill] has not pled facts supporting municipal liability against the City for a violation of a substantive due process right and the City is entitled to Sovereign Immunity for the state law claim,” Marks wrote in the court documents, filed Jan. 6, 2023. “The Plaintiff has not identified any specific policy or custom of the City or identified a decision-maker who is responsible for said policy or custom.”
8News also reached out to City Attorney Haskell Brown for comment, but she noted that her office does not comment on pending litigation.
“We have two kids who are dead in the street,” Gaines said. “Somebody’s going to do something about this.”
8News also reached out to the Ruffin family in response to these filings. Mother Candice Ruffin said that money cannot replace a life, and that her family would eventually like to celebrate their son’s life and legacy through a foundation.