Rapid City police officer deemed justified in shooting ‘fleeing’ suspect ‘multiple times’ in May traffic stop
With an officer’s vehicle nearly against her vehicle, Watkins allegedly shifted the car into reverse and collided with the front of an officer’s vehicle.
RAPID CITY — The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office has deemed the May shooting of a fleeing suspect by a Rapid City police officer as a justified use of force.
The decision came roughly two months after the shooting. Though the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) has a goal to release shooting reports in 30 days or fewer, Chad Mosteller, director of the DCI, said each case has intricacies that could delay the release.
“Some cases require more interviews, more evidence, more search warrants with different sorts of electronic media than other cases," Mosteller told the Mitchell Republic in July. "Sometimes when we’re assisting or investigating one of these cases, it takes many more agent-hours to do the work."
Despite staffing changes throughout the DCI and the Attorney General’s Office as well as a higher frequency of officer-involved shootings this year than any other year, Mosteller said the method of investigating these shootings has remained the same.
"There’s not going to be any difference or delay on any of these reports or the summaries based on the change of leadership at DCI," Mosteller said. "Regardless of who is sitting in the (DCI) director's office, the agents in the field will continue to do their work as efficiently and effectively as possible."
The latest report stems from an officer-involved shooting that took place May 31, when a Rapid City police officer fired seven shots at Shania Watkins, striking her an unknown number of times.
Shortly after 4 a.m. that day, police in Rapid City attempted to conduct a traffic stop on a white Mitsubishi Galant, driven by Watkins, near the intersection of North Lacrosse Street and East Waterloo Street after observing an improperly functioning license plate light.
According to a synopsis released by DCI, the vehicle began to slow, and an unidentified subject exited the vehicle’s passenger seat as Watkins continued to drive.
“The driver increased the vehicle’s speed and committed multiple traffic violations in an apparent effort to elude the officer,” the synopsis reads. “(It was) communicated to dispatch that (police) were in pursuit of the Galant and … (police) observed that the driver of the Galant threw a cup out of the vehicle as it traveled.”
As other officers with the Rapid City Police Department joined in the pursuit, speeds increased to approximately 65 mph, as Watkins allegedly drove into oncoming lanes. A tactical vehicle intervention was attempted, but was unsuccessful.
After continuing the pursuit through town, Watkins eventually came to a stop perpendicular to the roadway. With an officer’s vehicle nearly against her vehicle, Watkins allegedly shifted the car into reverse and collided with the front of an officer’s vehicle.
In response, the officer, whose identity remains unknown to the public, fired seven rounds through the front passenger door and window of Watkins’ vehicle. After additional backup units arrived, Watkins was removed from the vehicle with “multiple” gunshot wounds. Police provided medical aid until emergency medical technicians arrived and transported her to a Rapid City hospital.
Two weeks after the shooting, on June 14, investigators with the DCI interviewed Watkins, who allegedly said she never intended to stop her vehicle due to previous experiences with law enforcement.
“When the police attempted to pull Watkins over, Watkins told the unknown passenger that she could get out of the vehicle because Watkins had no intention of stopping for police,” the synopsis reads. “Watkins explained that she did not like the police based on previous life experience.”
Though Watkins denied using drugs or alcohol at the time, a drug screen during her stay in the hospital tested positive for methamphetamine and cannabinoids. She also allegedly admitted to having suicidal thoughts during the pursuit.
Through a review of body-worn camera footage, evidence recovered at the scene and interviews of officers and witnesses, the DCI, Attorney General’s Office and Minnehaha County State’s Attorney determined that the officer who fired their weapon was under a clear and present danger of serious injury or death, and was therefore justified to respond with deadly force.
The officer-involved shooting was the fourth in South Dakota this year, all of which have been deemed a justified use of force. The Attorney General’s Office has yet to release their decisions on four other officer-involved shootings, including three involving the Sioux Falls Police Department and one that took place in Madison — though it remains unknown to the public which agency or agencies the officer or officers who fired their weapon belongs to.
According to the website for the Office of the Attorney General, all 54 officer-involved shooting investigations that have been completed since December 2006 have been deemed justified.