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What policies must Richmond Police officers follow when driving through red lights to get to an emergency?

What policies do officers have to follow when driving through red lights to get to an emergency?
Posted at 4:05 PM, Aug 23, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- What do Richmond Police officers have to do when driving through a red light to respond to an emergency?

RPD officers must be able to come to a complete stop, if necessary, at any red light and must use both their lights and sirens when operating as an emergency vehicle, per the department's policy for responding to emergencies.

In July, the CBS6 Problem Solvers submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the department's policy after a crash involving officers killed two teens in April.

The crash happened just before 11 p.m. on April 7 after two RPD officers got a call for a burglary in progress on Clarkson Road.

Minutes later, they entered an intersection at Castlewood and Bells Roads, colliding with a car with 18-year-old Jeremiah Ruffin and 19-year-old Tracey Williams inside.

Both teens would die in the crash and the driver of the RPD vehicle, Officer Richard Johnson, would ultimately be indicted on two counts of involuntary manslaughter, failure to yield the right of way and reckless driving.

Three weeks after the crash, CBS6 Problem Solvers asked Richmond's Police Chief Gerald Smith if his officers followed RPD protocol the night of the fatal crash.

"We will not speak on it. We will go where the investigation leads us. At the conclusion of the investigation, we will turn it over to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office," Smith said.

"Have you been able to review video?" CBS6 Problem Solver Melissa Hipolit asked.

"Next question, please," Smith replied.

CBS6 Problem Solvers asked for a hard copy of the policy which says that the purpose is to establish a safe operating procedure when responding to emergencies.

Officers must use both their lights and sirens when operating an emergency vehicle and an officer's primary responsibility is the safety of the officer and the welfare of the general public.

The policy also said that although officers are given qualified exemptions under state law from observing certain traffic regulations, they are required to drive with regard for the safety of all people and they are never relieved of this responsibility.

The policy said officers should not exceed the posted speed limit more than a certain number of miles per hour, but the police department redacted the exact number.

It also said that officers must be able to come to a complete stop if necessary at any red light or stop sign. Officers may avoid a complete stop if the intersection is cleared prior to entering it.

CBS6 has not been able to independently view the security camera footage of the wreck as the criminal case remains ongoing.

However, Tracy Williams' father told reporters that he has seen the footage. Steven Hill said that in the video he saw, the RPD cruiser was traveling down Bells Road at a high rate of speed with the lights on, but not the siren.

Hill said the officers clearly faced a red light at the intersection but did not yield the right of way.

"No siren, they didn't yield to oncoming traffic and that's when, like I said, it was very fast and hard," Hill said in July. "We know you're trying to get to wherever you're going, but just yield at a light. That's it."

The April crash draws a comparison to another case that happened in Northern Virginia in 2008.

Ashley McIntosh, who was 33 at the time, was killed after a Fairfax Police officer failed to engage her sirens while responding to a shoplifting call. The officer went through a red light and crashed into Ashley's car.

Ashley McIntosh

The officer was ultimately found not guilty of reckless driving.

Despite the officer not being charged, the crash would inspire Ashley's Law, a 2011 bill that changed state law so that law enforcement officers must engage their lights and sirens or yield the right of way to other drivers when responding to crime scenes.

"I was pushing for a complete stop for a policeman when proceeding through a red light at an intersection. I didn't get a complete stop," Ashley's mom, Cindy Colasanto, said.

Colasanto said she is disappointed that the law she fought so hard for was not able to keep a similar tragedy from happening in Richmond.

"To lose a child is the most painful thing a person can go through. To lose a child to a tragic and preventable death is worse," Colasanto said.

Ashley McIntosh with family

RPD Spokeswoman Tracy Walker said all RPD recruits go through 92 hours of mandatory emergency operations training. She said officer Johnson was trained on the policy, but declined to say if he violated the policy saying the department does not comment on pending cases.

Johnson's trial is scheduled for April 2023.