Jury sides with Morgan sheriff's deputy in excessive force civil trial

Tuesday , November 07, 2017 - 12:00 AM

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

FARMINGTON — A Morgan County sheriff’s deputy did not violate a woman’s state constitutional rights when he shot out her eye at the end of a police chase, a 2nd District Court jury decided.

The verdict, reached Oct. 27 before Judge David Connors, caps a nearly five-year fight in state and federal courts over Sgt. Daniel Scott Peay’s shooting of Kristine Biggs Johnson in South Weber after a wild chase from Morgan County on Nov. 24, 2012.

RELATED: Appeals court backs Morgan County deputy in police shooting case

“We’re happy with the deliberations of the jury,” Salt Lake City attorney Jeff Bramble, who along with Julia Kyte defended Peay in the civil case, said Monday. “The plaintiff undeniably suffered a tragic injury, but justice was served and now the parties can move forward.”

Salt Lake City U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell in 2016 threw out Johnson’s claims that Peay and Morgan County violated her federal constitutional rights protecting her from the flagrantly excessive use of deadly force. But the judge allowed Johnson, who was blinded in her left eye, to return to the Farmington court for a decision on similar state constitutional questions.

In a court deposition, Peay testified he decided to fire at Johnson through her truck’s windshield because he was worried she might hit his brother, another Morgan deputy, or other law officers who had cornered the suspect in a cul de sac.

“She wasn't backin’ down, and I was worried my brother was gonna die. And that's when I, I shot,” Peay said, according to the deposition transcript.

Johnson’s attorneys argued in court documents that Peay violated Johnson’s civil rights when he “inflicted deadly force upon her, even though she presented no immediate danger to Peay or to others.”

“This is a shooting that never should have occurred,” Kent Morgan, an expert criminal justice witness, testified. “Sgt. Scott Peay used deadly force completely outside of the rules and conventions that applied to police officers at the time, and still do. There was no reason to shoot Kristine Biggs during this incident. No one was in danger. She had really nowhere to go, her vehicle could have been easily disabled, and she could have been removed from the vehicle and arrested without the resort to deadly force.”

An independent investigation by Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings also found the shooting was unjustified.

Peay remains on duty with Morgan County.

Johnson, who now lives in California, pleaded guilty in 2013 to misdemeanor DUI and failing to stop for a police officer and was sentenced to three years’ probation and a suspended prison term of 0 to 5 years.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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