Driver of car who struck Bluffton police officer gets 21 years behind bars

FINDLAY — The driver of a car that struck and killed a Bluffton police officer during a high-speed chase almost a year ago accepted a plea offer from prosecutors Tuesday that called for him to spend the next 21 years behind bars.

Emin Johnson, 21, of Euclid, was the driver of the fleeing car that struck and killed Bluffton Police Department officer Dominic Francis along Interstate 75 near the Allen-Hancock county line on March 31, 2022. The veteran Bluffton police officer at the time was setting up stop sticks in an attempt to flatten the tires of the vehicle that had reached speeds up to 120 mph and covered several counties.

Johnson was charged in a 10-count indictment that included counts of involuntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence, possessing criminal tools, failure to comply with an order of signal, failure to stop after an accident, having weapons under disability and receiving stolen property.

As part of the deal struck with prosecutors, Johnson pleaded guilty in Hancock County Common Pleas Court to six felony charges in exchange for the dismissal of the four remaining counts. The agreement contained a joint recommendation forged between the state and defense attorneys that called for a minimum prison sentence of 21 years up to a maximum of 26 1/2 years.

Johnson was sentenced to a minimum of 11 years in prison on the involuntary manslaughter charge, the most serious count. Sentences ranging from 12 to 36 months on the remaining charges, felonies of the third- and fourth-degree, were ordered to be served consecutively to each other. He was also ordered to pay restitution to Francis’s family for funeral expenses totaling just over $17,000.

Ricki Francis, the officer’s widow, addressed Johnson prior to sentencing, telling him how his reckless actions affected not only a family but an entire community.

“Dom was my soul mate. He was the best person I ever knew. He was my rock, and you took that away from me. You took that away from our kids,” Ricki Francis said. “You took a hero from our community … a real life guardian angel. I hope you see the devastation you caused to so many people.”

Francis also acknowledged the dozen or more law enforcement officers — members of the Bluffton Police Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol — who were in attendance Tuesday in the Hancock County courtroom. She called them her “brothers” who have supported her during the past year.

“Dom was about second chances and forgiveness,” she told Johnson. “You made terrible choices but I forgive you and Dom would forgive you.”

Johnson apologized “for causing pain” to the Francis family. “I know what we were doing wasn’t right,” he said.

Johnson just last week had sent a letter to Hancock County Common Pleas Court Judge Reginald Routson, alleging collusion between the judge, prosecutors and attorneys from the Ohio Public Defenders Office that he maintained jeopardize his right to a fair trial.

On Tuesday Johnson told the judge he wanted to retract his statements and planned to plead guilty to some of the charges against him.

One passenger in the vehicle that struck Francis has already been sentenced. Dante Tate, 19, of Euclid, pleaded guilty to two single counts of complicity to receiving stolen property and receiving stolen property, each felonies of the fourth degree, related to Francis’s death.

He was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Another passenger, Zachary Love, 22, of Columbus, is charged with receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence, having weapons under disability, improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle and receiving stolen property.