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Police: Johnson apologized before allegedly fleeing arrest

Daily Inter Lake | September 17, 2021 7:00 AM

A man who allegedly apologized to a police officer before speeding off from the scene of a traffic stop last month has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges in Lincoln County District Court.

Kevin Daniel Johnson, 44, was arraigned Aug. 30 on a felony count of criminal endangerment and misdemeanor counts of theft, obstructing a peace officer, driving a motor vehicle while suspended and operating with expired registration.

Libby Police officer Ron Buckner came across Johnson while responding to a report of a theft in progress at a Mineral Avenue thrift store about 9:52 p.m., Aug. 16. In an affidavit, Buckner recounted spotting a vehicle matching the description given to authorities near the shop.

After hitting his lights and running the other vehicle’s license plates, Buckner approached the motorist, later identified as Johnson. When Johnson asked after the reason for the stop, Buckner told him that surveillance cameras had caught him stealing a bicycle and other items. In the affidavit, Buckner wrote that bicycles were loaded onto the roof of the vehicle.

Johnson allegedly reached around and pulled out a book, trying to give it to Buckner. Buckner refused the book, court documents said.

Then Johnson allegedly admitted his license was suspended. But he quickly transitioned into asking about the local drug scene, Buckner wrote.

While the two talked, Buckner spotted a plastic cup with ice located between the front seats, court documents said. Examining the cup, he found both ice and two sealed nip bottles of alcohol. Deputy Derek Breiland of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, who had arrived on scene, saw a third sealed bottle on Johnson’s seat.

Still, Buckner could not smell alcohol on Johnson or from inside his vehicle. He asked dispatch to run Johnson’s information and discovered that the vehicle registration was expired, an issue that had caused Johnson several traffic stops in the past.

Johnson, though, offered proof of insurance on the vehicle.

In the end, Buckner contacted his superiors at the Libby Police Department, who directed him to arrest Johnson on theft and driving while suspended.

Buckner asked Johnson to exit the vehicle, but the other man asked whether he was going to jail. When Buckner told him he was under arrest, Johnson allegedly tried to give him the book again.

“I refused to take the book and asked Johnson what else he had,” Buckner wrote in an affidavit. “Johnson reached on his back seat and showed me a printer with the price tag on it as well as a plastic container with baby blocks in it. I did not accept the items and told him to exit the car.”

But Johnson allegedly refused. He slammed the baby blocks down on the seat and started the vehicle.

“I said, ‘What are you doing, Kevin?’” Buckner wrote. “Johnson looked up at me and stated, ‘I’m sorry,’ as he revved the engine and put the vehicle in gear.”

Breiland yelled at him to stop as Johnson allegedly dumped the clutch and spun out, court documents said. Simultaneously, Breiland pulled out his Taser and used it on Johnson, Buckner wrote.

Johnson screamed, he wrote, and sped off. They watched Johnson’s vehicle allegedly cut through the parking lot of a community medical practice before driving into the parking lot of a nearby medical center, court documents said.

After notifying dispatch of “a runner,” the two lawmen took off in pursuit, following Johnson to the medical facility’s emergency room entrance. There, Johnson abandoned the vehicle and took off on foot, court documents said.

Buckner reported finding Johnson running down Dakota Avenue. He stopped after Buckner shined his vehicle lights on him, according to court documents.

Johnson, gasping for breath, was cuffed and taken to the Lincoln County Detention Center. Breiland remained on scene until a tow truck arrived to impound Johnson’s vehicle.

Criminal endangerment is punishable by up to 10 years with the Montana State Prison and a $50,000 fine. Misdemeanor operating with expired registration is punishable by a $500 fine. The remaining three misdemeanor charges all carry a maximum punishment of six months in county jail and $500 fines.