Richmond police officer found guilty in crash that killed two teens

Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 7:45 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2023 at 10:05 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A jury found a Richmond police officer guilty on two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of reckless driving Tuesday evening.

Richard Johnson was on trial for driving a police cruiser that killed two teenagers in a fatal car accident last April.

Johnson was on duty responding to a “Code 1″ robbery call, speeding in a police cruiser when he ran through a red light and hit a Buick driven by 18-year-old Jeremiah Ruffin with 19-year-old Tracey Williams as a passenger.

Ruffin was driving without a license and going approximately 7 mph over the speed limit.

Johnson had his lights and sirens on but was going nearly 25 mph over the speed limit at the time of the collision.

Both teens were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash, and both were ejected from the vehicle. Williams died due to her injuries that night, while Ruffin died 13 days later.

The trial began on Monday and concluded Tuesday around 7:30 p.m.

Ten witnesses took the stand in this trial, including Johnson, who broke down in tears while testifying.

Several pieces of evidence were presented in the case, including surveillance video of the crash, still images of the damage, and body-worn camera footage.

The Commonwealth claimed the crash resulted from Johnson’s gross negligence and reckless disregard for human life.

The defense argues the crash was unavoidable and did not see the Buick approaching the intersection.

Johnson’s attorneys argued he was acting within the scope of his duty as an officer under a Code 1 high priority with his airhorn, siren, and lights deployed, saying Ruffin and all other traffic should have yielded.

The Commonwealth claimed, given the evidence provided by Virginia State Police, Johnson was traveling at a high rate of speed and did not slow down or press the brake before approaching the red light.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin also argued it was especially unnecessary to speed through a red light given he was not the primary responding unit and was only backup.

Ultimately, after two hours of deliberation, the jury sided with the Commonwealth.

Emotion erupted in the courtroom as the judge read the guilty verdict.

Johnson began visibly shaking. One juror was crying. Johnson’s family began sobbing.

The defense declined to comment but did express disappointment in the jury’s verdict.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin shared the following sentiment in an interview off-camera:

I want to thank the jury for their consideration and the attention they gave to both unique and complex issues. Three families have been devastated by what happened. I’m certainly glad the evidence we produced and put in front of this jury was sufficient to convince them beyond a reasonable doubt of Officer Johnson’s guilt. The jury clearly gave a lot of considerable thought to all of the evidence that was presented by both sides, and they took at least two hours to deliberate. It was clearly emotional for them too. The Richmond police department is well aware of the facts of the investigation, and it is up to them to determine what internal measures need to be taken, if any. I’d like to thank the crash investigation team that put a very complex case together, stayed in contact with the family, and supported them over the past year.

Late Tuesday, Interim Police Chief Rick Edwards released this statement about the case:

The Richmond Police Department feels great sorrow for everyone involved in this tragic incident. We respect the judicial system and the jury’s decision As chief, I ask the Richmond community to keep Officer Johnson and the Ruffin and Williams families in your prayers, knowing how much they have lost.

Officer Richard Johnson will remain on paid administrative leave until the trial court imposes its sentence in August. Until that time, the case has yet to reach its final adjudication.

Johnson’s sentencing is set for Aug. 9.

For each count of involuntary manslaughter, Johnson could face a maximum of 10 years in prison.