Lawyers representing the estate of a Richland County teenager filed a complaint Friday against the City of Columbia, accusing a city police officer of profiling the teen and then targeting him like he “was a deer” before killing him.
Joshua Ruffin, 17, who is referred to as “JR” in the lawsuit, was killed around 6 p.m. April 8, 2020, after running from a Columbia police officer. The lawsuit contends the officer had no reason to stop Ruffin in the first place.
After an investigation by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson announced in June 2020 that he was declining to press charges against the officer.
The shooting resulted in protests and a petition calling for a “just and independent” investigation into Ruffin’s death, “trauma-informed de-escalation training for all police,” an apology and the resignation of Police Chief Skip Holbrook.
The Racial Justice Network and Ruffin’s family called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.
Reached Tuesday morning, the City of Columbia Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons said, “Due to the pending lawsuit, we are not at liberty to comment.”
According to the lawsuit, Ruffin’s death occurred after a private citizen reported seeing “juveniles on bicycles” riding around and “messing with cars.”
The citizen did not call City of Columbia dispatch, but instead privately texted a city police officer.
That officer drove around the area where the young people were seen before spotting Ruffin walking by himself.
The teen was “merely walking along Arlington Street minding his own business … there was no bicycle in sight,” the lawsuit states.
“JR did not fit the description of any potential suspect other than being a juvenile and [he] was all alone by himself.”
The teen was not “messing with” nor near any cars, the lawsuit states.
The officer “effectively profiled JR.”
The lawsuit contends that the officer had no ”reasonable suspicion” to stop and talk to JR, let alone ”attempt to detain him.”
“Just because there are juveniles on bicycles messing with cars does not authorize defendant’s officers to eyeball, follow or approach every black juvenile they encounter along the street as though that juvenile is one of the suspects or persons of interest they are looking for.”
The area’s recent car break-ins had “nothing to do with JR,” the suit states.
“Using general, petty crime in an area as a reason to harass, intimidate or profile minority children in Columbia is grotesque and inexcusable.”
In September 2020, The (Charleston) Post and Courier posted video from the officer’s body camera showing the chase that led up to Ruffin’s killing.
According to the lawsuit, JR was walking along Arlington Street when the police officer, who was in a marked car, attempted to talk to him.
“Since citizens have no obligation to interact with law enforcement if they do not want to, JR continued walking and began walking faster as the officer kept bothering him.”
This is when the officer began chasing JR “without probable cause.”
JR was running up a hill at a school when he slipped and fell. According to the lawsuit, this is when the officer pulled his gun and pointed it at JR.
“JR got up attempting to run, at which point the officer opened fire at JR’s back while saying ‘let me see your hands.'”
Shortly after falling, JR attempted to access his gun “but was never afforded the opportunity to drop or otherwise put it on the ground.”
“At no time prior to, during, or after firing on a fleeing JR did defendant’s officer mention, say or otherwise indicate that he knew, believed, or thought JR was armed.”
It was at this time that “JR panicked,” the lawsuit states. “But rather than attempt to defend himself … JR redoubled his efforts to flee.”
The officer shot JR eight more times, the lawsuit states.
“For the remaining 8 shots, defendant’s officer stood still shooting at JR as though JR was a deer.”
The officer did not appear to be aware of JR’s firearm prior to opening fire on him and never verbalized that he felt threatened, according to the lawsuit.
“It was not until the officers got right up on JR’s body that the officer said: ‘I shot, he had a gun in his hand, the gun’s right by his hand right there.'”
The lawsuit accuses the City of Columbia of not properly training officers on “important policing practices” that would have prevented JR’s death.Ruffin-Lawsuit
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at email@example.com or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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