Aug. 28 — SIOUX FALLS — Two Sioux Falls police officers have been ruled justified in firing 21 shots at a suspect during a rush-hour traffic stop in early August, resulting in his death.
The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) has released Attorney General Mark Vargo’s decision, clearing a Sioux Falls Police Department officer and a Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) detective of criminal charges in On August 9, the shooting death of 21-year-old Jacob Michael James.
At approximately 5:30 p.m. on August 9, authorities with the Sioux Falls Area Drug Task Force — made up of law enforcement from various local and state entities — initiated a traffic stop on a Pontiac Bonneville near the intersection of West 12th Street and South Williams Avenue , in west-central Sioux Falls, after allegedly seeing the vehicle involved in drug activity.
The vehicle pulled into a Burger King parking lot and three of the four occupants quickly exited the vehicle, according to Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum.
According to the DCI’s report, James pulled a firearm from his waistband and fired three shots at the authorities. An MCSO detective, referred to in the report as “Detective,” and a Sioux Falls Police Department officer, referred to in the report as “Investigator,” returned fire on James.
“Jacob Michael James continued to fire at them,” the report said. “Jacob Michael James was shot multiple times by the detective and investigator and later died as a result of those injuries.”
Ballistics tests conducted on the detective’s and the investigator’s firearms at the South Dakota Medical Examiner’s Laboratory in Pierre revealed that the detective fired seven shots while the investigator fired 14. An autopsy on James found that he was hit by four of the 21 bullets fired from law enforcement — with one bullet each through his right elbow, left side of his abdomen, right thigh and right side of his chest.
Detective and Investigator toxicology reports found no alcohol or illegal drugs in their system, while James tested positive for alcohol in his blood and norfentanyl, fentanyl, fluorofentanyl and methamphetamine in his urine.
The three other fleeing suspects, including one who fled in a Pontiac Bonneville, were later apprehended by authorities.
The shooting took place just a block away from one of the city’s busiest intersections, as many of the metropolitan area’s 280,000-plus residents were heading home from their typical workday.
The DCI’s report said a review of all video — including some taken by witnesses — showed “significant bystander movement” throughout the shooting. Although no other bystanders were injured in the shooting, investigators processing the scene discovered damage, referred to as “defects,” to several pieces of private property as a result of the shooting.
“There were multiple gunshot wounds to the southwest corner of the Burger King building. There were two (2) apparent bullet wounds to an unoccupied pedestrian vehicle parked near the southwest corner of the building,” the report states. “There were two bullet casings that were also found at a nearby business, east of the Burger King.”
Two bullet holes were also discovered in the driver’s door of an unmarked MCSO vehicle in the lot.
In an Aug. 10 press conference, Thum noted that while the timing and location of the shooting were not ideal, officers are trained to handle dangerous situations in any environment.
“[A high-traffic area] it is a very difficult situation. We don’t always choose the time, place, or manner in which one of these occurs. When people choose that action in that environment, it creates a very high consequence and very, very dangerous situation,” Thum said. “Officers are always prepared. I think sometimes they’re seen as over-vigilant or over-prepared, but that’s what it is.”
The DCI issued the report of the shooting hours before a planned gathering outside the Burger King, where about 50 people planned to gather for the memorial service.
“We’re left with a lot of questions, no answers,” Jessica Williams, James’ cousin, told the gathering.
With many holding signs reading ‘#JusticeForJacob’, Williams claimed James was lying on the ground when officers continued to shoot at him.
The DCI report notes that video taken by a bystander showed James sitting on the ground and appearing to throw something from his right hand. His firearm was later located by investigators “near” where he was sitting, although no specific distance was provided.
Despite doubts raised by those in attendance, a full review of all the video collected by authorities, interviews with the Detective and Investigator, and a review of the scene, the Attorney General’s Office said the two task force members was in a “tense uncertain and rapidly evolving situation”.
Citing a “clear and present danger” to law enforcement officers as well as bystanders and their property, the shooting was ruled justified.
The Aug. 9 shooting marked the ninth officer-involved shooting in South Dakota this year. Of those shootings, six have been ruled justified, while three remain under investigation.
According to the Attorney General’s Office website, all 55 officer-involved shootings for which investigations have been completed have been ruled justified.