San Juan County woman appeals 2013 felony assault conviction

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A 60-year-old woman requested last week that a New Mexico appeals court overturn her conviction for felony assault so that she can seek redress in a lawsuit against the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

Donna Peace was found guilty at trial in March 2013 of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly threatening to shoot two sheriff's office deputies dispatched to her home on Jan. 31, 2012, according to Daily Times archives.

The officers, Emerson Charley and Katie Macsalka, were responding to the residence on County Road 3050 after Peace's sister called 911 and reported Peace was threatening to shoot herself and several family members, Daily Times archives state.

Charley and Macsalka confronted Peace near the back of the residence, court records state, and Peace allegedly pointed a firearm at the officers.

In response, Charley deployed a stun gun, and Macsalka fired three shots at Peace, striking her once in the stomach.

Peace was also charged with aggravated assault on a peace officer, but the jury determined there was not enough evidence to prove Peace knew she pointed a gun at law enforcement officers.

In January, Peace filed a lawsuit in federal court against the sheriff's office, the county, Sheriff Ken Christesen and Macsalka alleging that Macsalka used excessive force and was poorly trained.

"Defendant Christesen and the Defendant County of San Juan have created and tolerated an atmosphere of lawlessness ... in a manner amounting to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Plaintiff and of the public," according to the complaint.

In the lawsuit, Peace denies she pointed a gun at the officers and also claims the officers never identified themselves as law enforcement officers.

Peace's attorney, Emeterio Rudolfo, of Farmington, could not be reached for comment.

The defendants, represented by Albuquerque attorney Ron Childress, filed a motion March 16 asking a federal judge dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1994 decision Heck v. Humphrey that a criminal defendant is barred from challenging the legality of his or her conviction through a civil rights action without first seeking to have the conviction overturned.

Childress could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Rudolfo conceded in a response filed April 27 that the excessive force claim is likely barred as a result of the 1994 decision.

He requested the lawsuit be stayed, pending the criminal appeal.

Barring that, he requested Peace be allowed to proceed on claims that Christesen acted with deliberate indifference by failing to adequately train officers to respond to suicidal subject calls.

Judge Paul Kelly Jr. is presiding over the case. He has not yet made a decision on the motion, according to court records.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.