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Report: Highway Patrol marksman was justified to use lethal force in Hanson County standoff

After shooting multiple rounds toward officers, the marksman fired a single round from nearly 200 yards away, striking and killing the suspect.

South Dakota Highway Patrol NEW.jpg
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FARMER, S.D. — The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office has deemed a state trooper’s use of deadly force justified in a March standoff in Hanson County that lasted nearly three hours.

The South Dakota Attorney General's Office on Tuesday said Ryan John Waldner, 41, of Spencer, died shortly after 10:28 p.m. on March 19. A South Dakota Highway Patrol marksman took one shot, which hit Waldner in the chest and killed him. Officials did not name the officer who fired the shot.

Police responded to a shooting call

Police were first called to the incident, near the area of South Dakota Highway 25 and 249th Street, at approximately 7:40 p.m. after receiving a report of a man who had shot at his neighbor. The Hanson County Sheriff’s Office, the South Dakota Highway Patrol and surrounding agencies responded.

The neighbor reported that Waldner had shot several bullets in his direction before being picked up and brought back to his house. The neighbor was still in the area and reported hearing several more shots fired from within the Waldner residence.

When law enforcement arrived, authorities say they heard at least three more shots fired from the direction of the Waldner residence. Through previous investigations by the Hanson County Sheriff’s Office and from neighbors’ statements, it was discovered that the Waldner residence did not have a working phone. It was also believed Waldner was in the residence at the time with his spouse and at least two children.

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With no safe way to make contact, authorities called in the South Dakota Highway Patrol’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. A State Trooper, referred to in the report as Trooper 1, witnessed “several” females exit the residence and stand on the front porch — some of which appeared to be teenagers.

Fatal bullet shot by marksman from 200 yards

After spending nearly two-and-a-half hours attempting to make contact via a bullhorn, and with “little to no cover” for law enforcement, the SWAT team began approaching the home with a Bearcat. During their approach, Waldner allegedly exited the residence, fired multiple shots in an unknown direction and re-entered the home.

Rapid City standoff 010119
Authorities will often use a Bearcat armored vehicle to protect officers in standoff situations. This file photo depicts a Bearcat in use during a standoff in Rapid City on Jan. 1, 2019.
Photo courtesy of the Rapid City Journal

At approximately 10:30 p.m., authorities say Waldner again exited the residence and fired two to three shots in the direction of the Bearcat. A female was heard screaming inside the home and several females were seen running around as Waldner re-entered the residence. Moments later, he emerged again and fired several more rounds at the Bearcat, at least one of which struck the armored vehicle, creating a “very loud ping.”

At this time, Trooper One fired a single .308-caliber bullet from approximately 195 yards to the south-southwest, which struck Waldner in the chest, entering the right lung, traveling through the heart and exiting his left shoulder.

Waldner collapsed just inside the doorway to his residence. Paramedics, who were already present on the scene, approached the home and determined Waldner to be deceased.

Immediately following the conclusion to the standoff, an investigation began.

State agency investigates officer-involved shootings

The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), a division of the Office of the Attorney General, is tasked with investigating all officer-involved shootings in the state, unless there is a conflict of interest. As part of their investigation, the DCI will review and process the physical evidence and circumstances of a scene.

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While recovering physical evidence, investigators say they recovered 11 spent bullet casings across a one-third-of-a-mile stretch of 249th Street, which corroborated the neighbor’s report that Waldner was shooting at him prior to the initial 911 call.

On Waldner’s property, the DCI says they recovered 85 spent casings — consisting of rounds from a .22-caliber, a 9-millimeter, a .243-caliber, a .45-caliber and a 12-gauge. A black colored .22-caliber pistol was in the same room as Waldner a short distance from his body. A .243-caliber rifle was also located a short distance from Waldner’s body.

A defect was located on the Bearcat vehicle rear passenger side wheel well, which appeared to be a lead splash on the steel passenger rear wheel well behind the tires. South Dakota Forensic Lab testing later verified that this defect was consistent with a bullet impact. Swabs collected from the defect tested positive for lead residues consistent with the impact of a bullet.

One spent .308 caliber casing was found in the location where Trooper One, the SWAT Team marksman, was positioned along with his .308 rifle.

In addition to their accounts of the shooting, the DCI provided a map of the scene.

DCIMap.PNG
The South Dakota Attorney General's Office released this map as part of a report justifying an Highway Patrol marksman's use of deadly force in a standoff in Hanson County on March 19, 2022.
Graphic courtesy of the South Dakota Attorney General's Office

Officers’ interviews were consistent with findings

Throughout the course of collecting physical evidence, interviews were conducted with Trooper One, the SWAT team leader, a Hanson County Sheriff’s deputy and an undisclosed number of SWAT team members.

Trooper One told investigators he recalled hearing multiple gunshots fired from the residence on different occasions. After witnessing Waldner exit the residence and hearing a bullet “ping” off of the Bearcat, Trooper One said he fired one shot and saw Waldner collapse.

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The SWAT team leader, identified in the report as Trooper Two, told investigators that upon their arrival, it was unclear whether Waldner’s family were injured or if they had been taken as hostages. After individuals were seen fleeing from the home, Trooper Two determined that it was not a hostage situation and decided to attempt to make contact.

While moving closer to the home, Trooper Two, who was seated inside the Bearcat, said he recalled a noise that he believed to be a bullet striking the armored vehicle. The report does not indicate if Trooper Two, acting as the SWAT team leader, made the call for Trooper One to fire a shot.

In an interview with a Hanson County Sheriff’s deputy, identified as Deputy One in the report, Deputy One said he was assigned to stay with Trooper One in a field, and had used thermal imaging to monitor the movements around the house. Deputy One recalled seeing a man fire multiple shots at the Bearcat, one of which was indicated by a “loud ping.”

The report found that all interviews were consistent with the physical and forensic evidence recovered by investigators.

Deputy Attorney General justifies the shooting

All officer-involved shooting reports compiled by the DCI are submitted to the South Dakota Attorney General for review to evaluate whether an officer’s use of deadly force was justified or unjustified.

With Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg suspended from office pending an impeachment trial, Chief Deputy Attorney General Charles McGuigan opined in the case.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable officer present at the scene utilized deadly force in a situation that was tense, uncertain, and building. … Waldner demonstrated the ability to use deadly force and was a clear and present danger to law enforcement officers present at the scene,” the report reads. “[Trooper One] observed what they recognized as a deadly weapon pointed and fired at other uniformed officers. … It is the conclusion of this report and the South Dakota Chief Deputy Attorney General that Trooper #1 was justified in firing their weapon and using lethal force.”

The DCI is currently investigating two other officer-involved shootings, including one in Rapid City on on March 26 and one in Sioux Falls on March 31.

The shooting in Hanson County was the 15th officer-involved shooting in South Dakota since 2018. All have been found to be justified.

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Across 14 officer-involved shootings in South Dakota since 2018, all were deemed justified.

Related Topics: CRIMESOUTH DAKOTASHOOTINGS
A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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