SEATTLE — A Washington State Patrol sergeant has been reassigned after a KING 5 investigation revealed he cited an innocent truck driver who was involved in a car crash caused by a rookie state trooper.
Sgt. TJ Johnson was placed on "administrative reassignment due to the nature of his alleged misconduct" as the state patrol conducts an internal affairs investigation of him, according to Washington State Patrol (WSP).
Last month, an expert determined Trooper Cadet Phirawat Apisit was responsible for the crash that left the driver of the other vehicle injured.
WSP supervisors pressed their case against the other driver, a trucker, even though video evidence and the collision tech’s report cleared the truck driver.
“I feel that they’re trying to cover up the fact that their officer was in the wrong,” said truck driver Shawn Foutch of Snohomish, who recently returned to work after spending months at home recuperating from the August 12, 2022 accident.
Incident reports obtained through a public records request to the Washington State Patrol (WSP) show that the conduct of responding troopers raised red flags within minutes of the crash.
Three troopers wrote they “… sensed a strong odor of intoxicants” coming from Foutch as they questioned him about the accident. Troopers R.J. Klepac and T. Whales reported this to their sergeant on the scene, TJ Johnson. Johnson also wrote in his report “I thought I could detect an odor of intoxicants” coming from Foutch.
“That’s extremely funny because I don’t drink and I haven’t drank in decades,” said Foutch, explaining that he is a diabetic who cannot tolerate alcohol.
Reports show that Foutch passed a field sobriety test and a portable breathalyzer test.
Soon after the accident, WSP received a copy of the dash camera video from the trucking company for which Foutch works. Like many commercial operators, his dash cam has a view of the driver, a forward-facing view of the road ahead, and data including the vehicle’s speed.
The 12-second recording shows Foutch’s truck traveling under the 60-mile-per-hour speed limit as he drives under the NE 50th Street overpass on northbound I-5. Flashing red lights can be seen ahead on the right shoulder of the freeway and a lone flashing red light starts to cross from the left shoulder of the highway to the right side.
“Because there (were) officers on the right-hand side I thought he was shooting across the freeway to try to get on that side of the freeway to (catch up to the other officers),” said Foutch.
Foutch moved his 80,000-pound semi-truck loaded with US mail three lanes over to the left to give the officers room on the right-hand shoulder.
The video shows the lone state patrol vehicle that was crossing the highway suddenly cut back to the left and turn into Foutch’s lane of travel.
In a recorded interview, the WSP collision tech told the defense lawyer that Apisit improperly attempted a “rolling slowdown,” a technique designed to slow all lanes of traffic so that troopers ahead of him could pull onto the road after a DUI stop on northbound I-5. “It’s not really clear that a slowdown is happening,” he said pointing out tactics the rookie trooper used that were ineffective, unsafe and may have confused the drivers he was trying to slow down.
“The infraction never should have been issued,” said WSP spokesperson Chris Loftis. “We didn’t meet our own standards of fundamental fairness."
WSP sent KING 5 a statement that read:
"Sergeant T. J. Johnson has been placed on administrative reassignment due the nature of his alleged misconduct following an August 12, 2022, collision involving a trooper and a commercial motor vehicle. Sergeant Johnson will not be involved in law enforcement activities during his reassignment. The public holds the Washington State Patrol (WSP) accountable for the acts and omissions of our employees, and we have an obligation to thoroughly investigate allegations of misconduct. WSP’s Office of Professional Standards is currently conducting the administrative investigation. In order to maintain the integrity of the process, WSP will not comment on specifics at this time, but will provide appropriate information once the investigation is completed."