- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A federal judge in Utah has ruled that a Morgan County law officer was justified when he shot a California woman in the face during a high-speed chase on Interstate 84 in 2012.

The victim, Kristine Biggs Johnson, filed a lawsuit against the county and Sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Peay in 2014 after Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings found the shootings to be unjustified but chose not to file any criminal charges.

Judge Tena Campbell disagreed, ruling on Monday that Peay’s actions were reasonable and constitutional under the circumstances, and granting him qualified immunity, according to The Salt Lake Tribune (https://tinyurl.com/zs8cbr3).

Peay fired a single shot at Johnson, who was suspected of driving drunk at night without headlights on Nov. 24, 2012. The bullet hit and blinded her in the left eye. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

About 20 minutes into the 40-minute chase, officers set up spikes on the road, which ripped off three of Johnson’s tires, according to court documents. She continued to drive, stopping briefly near an intersection where Peay and other officers attempted to block her truck with their cars. Peay and other responders got out of their vehicles and ordered Johnson to stop.

She rammed Peay’s car with enough force that it “jerked as it was hit,” court documents state. She then backed up, revved her engine and drove toward the car of Peay’s brother, a Morgan County deputy, hitting it with “an even stronger force.” As she struck that car, Peay fired the shot, court documents said, fearing that his brother was in immediate danger of being pinned between the two vehicles.

Johnson said Peay acted with “unnecessary and excessive” force and no one was in danger. Robert Sykes, Johnson’s attorney, said his client was driving slowly when she struck the cars and that she did not pose an immediate threat. Peay’s use of force, he said, was “unjustified” because Johnson “wasn’t going to hit anyone” after Peay’s brother had stepped out of the way.

“We’re disappointed in the outcome (of the case),” Sykes said. He said Peay “tried to kill her for going 2 miles an hour.”

Peter Stirba, who represents Peay and Morgan County, said he was “pleased with decision” made by the court, which offers his client “profound vindication.” Peay, he added, used force because Johnson posed a serious threat to himself and the officers around him, who were in “imminent danger of being run over by her vehicle.”

There are three remaining claims in the case - two against the county and one against Peay - which Stirba said the court likely will dismiss when he files a motion to resolve the entire matter next week. Johnson’s argument was predicated on labeling Peay’s actions unconstitutional, Stirba said, an argument the court refuted.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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