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Wife of shooting victim seeks dismissal, sanctions

by KEITH KINNAIRD
Hagadone News Network | February 12, 2021 1:00 AM

COOLIN — The truth behind an officer-involved shooting that claimed the life of Craig Albert Johnson could be evaporating.

Counsel for Johnson's wife is moving to end a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and five deputies because the department failed to preserve critical evidence which would have shed light on the shooting.

Robin Johnson's motion for termination of the civil proceedings is paired with a motion for unspecified monetary sanctions against sheriff's officials for the alleged obfuscation of evidence.

"Plaintiff seeks termination and monetary sanctions because defendants did not preserve foundational evidence required to investigate the crime scene, thereby leading to a sham investigation and no competent evidence upon which plaintiff can prepare her case," Robin Johnson's counsel, Spokane Valley attorney Drew Dalton, said in the motion.

Craig Johnson, 50, was shot to death by a sheriff's Emergency Response Team sniper after allegedly advancing on another deputy outside his home while armed with a handgun on Sept. 26, 2017. Deputies were attempting to arrest Craig Johnson for allegedly confronting a deputy with a firearm during a welfare check two days before he was slain.

Johnson's widow filed suit against sheriff's officials in 2019, arguing that her husband was subjected to an unconstitutional use of deadly force. The lawsuit further argued that improper training of deputies factored into the killing.

Robin Johnson, however, moved to terminate the proceedings earlier this month because sheriff's officials failed to preserve critical evidence regarding the location of Craig Johnson's body, the location of the firearm he was allegedly holding, the location of the deputy he allegedly advanced on and the location of the ERT sniper who shot and killed Craig Johnson.

The motion further states that the deputies' collective testimony regarding the circumstances of the shooting is "inconsistent and irreconcilable."

Two ERT snipers who were providing overwatch of frontline deputies told investigators Craig Johnson pointed a pistol at deputies, but other deputies testified during depositions that they never saw a gun, according to the motion.

Other testimony indicated a Bearcat armored vehicle was in the process of being parked when Johnson was shot, which would have placed it in the sniper's line of fire.

The motion also notes that one deputy had an iPhone capable of capturing video, but it was not utilized. Although uniformed officers are required to wear body cameras, Wheeler testified that the ERT is exempted from the requirement to keep the team's operations and tactics confidential.

In addition to monetary and termination sanctions, Robin Johnson is seeking attorneys fees and costs. Dalton said in court documents that there are more than $150,000 in attorney fees, in addition to $28,000 for an expert witness and $13,000 in deposition fees.

"These efforts led only to learning that defendants pretended to preserve a scene when, in reality, they did not. The fact that defendants knowingly pass unreliable information to the investigator makes any additional prosecution of this case a waste of time, money and judicial resources," Dalton said in the motion.

The motion is pending in U.S. District Court, records show.

Bonner County Undersheriff Ror Lakewold said the sheriff's office is unable to provide comment or discuss the matter because the case remains in litigation.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and followed on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.