Richmond police officer dies of COVID-19 complications, after catching it on the job
Department praised service, youth mentorship; 2019 shooting drew legal scrutiny
Richmond police shared this image Thursday, August 20, 2020 of Sgt. Virgil Thomas. (Courtesy Richmond Police Department)
By GEORGE KELLY | firstname.lastname@example.org and NATE GARTRELL | email@example.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: August 20, 2020 at 7:23 p.m. | UPDATED: August 21, 2020 at 4:51 p.m.
RICHMOND — Sgt. Virgil Thomas, a 24-year veteran with the city’s police department, died Thursday morning of complications related to COVID-19, which he caught during the course of his work, authorities said. He was 52.
In a social-media post, police said Thomas had served with Albany and Novato’s police departments before holding assignments with schools, neighborhood services and officer-training units in Richmond. Colleagues described him as a popular officer seen as a leader within the department.
“Sgt. Thomas was loved and will be missed by his Richmond family. We, as a department and community, will carry on his legacy in our work and service,” police said in a news release Thursday. “Our hearts are with his wife and four children during this difficult time.”
Thomas made headlines last year when he shot and killed Eric Reason outside a Vallejo restaurant after the two argued over a parking spot. Thomas returned to work after the shooting, which was still being investigated by the Solano County District Attorney at the time of Thomas’ death.
After his long law enforcement career, Thomas had been eligible for retirement for more than a year before his death but wanted to remain a policeman. He contracted COVID-19 while answering a service call, colleagues told this newspaper.
“During his time as a School Resource Officer, he mentored and guided many of our underserved Richmond youth and was like a father figure,” police said. “He also coached youth baseball and softball. At the beginning of this year, he returned to the School Resource Unit as the unit supervisor, where he continued to embrace the youth.”
Comments responded to the department’s post Thursday with condolences, recalling examples of student encouragement and engagement, civilian ride-alongs and lighter, laughter-filled moments.
Thomas was also president of the Richmond Police Officers Association, and a member of the Guardians of Justice, a charitable organization founded to support Black officers’ fair treatment within the department and to sponsor giveaways and outreach efforts.
“Today we lost a brother, friend, and mentor. Rest easy, President,” a social-media post from the Guardians said Thursday.
In May, the city of Vallejo rejected a legal claim filed by Reason’s family, who claimed police botched the investigation after Thomas fatally shot Reason last November. Reason’s family criticized the city for treating it as an officer-involved shooting even though Thomas was off duty.
Vallejo police described the shooting, the city’s 12th homicide of 2019, as lawful self-defense. In January, city officials released surveillance-camera footage that appeared to show Reason draw a gun during an argument over a parking space before walking to his car when Thomas produced his own duty weapon. Reason then fled while Thomas, who was there with his wife, pursued a short distance while shooting.
Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.