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Deputy cleared in pursuit shooting

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RONAN — The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office completed an investigation into the Feb. 8 pursuit during which Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Joel Diaz used his firearm to shoot out a vehicle’s tires. The Missoula County Sheriffs Office found the shooting to be justified, according to a press release.

The chase began when Diaz attempted to stop a pickup truck driven by Victor Anthony Morigeau around 1:30 a.m. Feb 8. Morigeau fled the scene, resulting in a 35 minute pursuit onto Rocky Butte Road southwest of Ronan. The pursuit ended when Morigeau allegedly tried to run Diaz over with his truck.

Diaz took action, firing four rounds and flattening two of Morigeau’s tires. 

Whenever an officer discharges his firearm in the line of duty, standard procedure is to place the officer on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted by an outside agency. Lake County Undersheriff Dan Yonkin said this is in no way intended to imply guilt.

“We’ve had officers make that choice in the past,” Yonkin said. “The only way that our officers are supposed to be shooting at a vehicle at all is if they’re authorized to use deadly force.”

According to the press release, the Missoula County investigators made note that Diaz’s actions “resulted in the best possible outcome” and said that Diaz “placed the physical wellbeing of Morigeau above his own by choosing to shoot the tires instead of firing at Morigeau.”

“I thought that was an important point,” Yonkin said. “(Diaz) had options, and certainly deadly force was one of them, and he chose something slightly less.”

“I can’t say if I’d have done the same,” Yonkin said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to say exactly what you’ll do until you’re in that position, and you have to keep in mind that this was a rapidly evolving event (Diaz) found himself in. When you start a pursuit, you hope it’s going to end with person giving up.”

Morigeau was taken into custody and charged with two counts of assault on a peace officer, both felonies, and one count of driving under the influence, fifth offense. 

Diaz will return to active duty immediately.

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