Sioux Falls officers cleared of charges in firing 21 shots at suspect in Aug. 9 shootout, killing him
The suspect was struck by four of the 21 shots fired at him between a Sioux Falls Police officer and a Minnehaha County Sheriff's detective.
SIOUX FALLS — Two police officers in Sioux Falls were deemed 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) on Friday, Aug. 26, released Attorney General Mark Vargo’s decision, clearing from criminal charges an officer of the Sioux Falls Police Department and a detective of the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 21-year-old Jacob Michael James.
At approximately 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 9, authorities with the Sioux Falls Area Drug Task Force — consisting 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 witnessing the vehicle engage 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 DCI’s report, James produced a firearm from his waistband and fired three shots at authorities. A detective with the MCSO, referred to in the report as “Detective,” and an officer with the Sioux Falls Police Department, referred to in the report as “Investigator,” returned fire on James.
“Jacob Michael James continued to shoot at them,” the report reads. “Jacob Michael James was shot multiple times by the Detective and Investigator and later died as a result of those injuries.”
Ballistics testing conducted on Detective and Investigator’s firearms at the South Dakota Forensic Lab in Pierre revealed Detective fired seven shots while Investigator fired 14. An autopsy on James determined he was struck by four of the 21 bullets fired by law enforcement — with one bullet each striking his right elbow, left side of his abdomen, right thigh and right side of his chest.
Toxicology reports on Detective and Investigator found no alcohol or illegal drugs in their system, while a screening on James tested positive for alcohol in his blood and norfentanyl, fentanyl, fluorofentanyl and methamphetamine in his urine.
The three other suspects who fled, including one who fled in the Pontiac Bonneville, were later apprehended by authorities.
A high-risk, rush-hour shooting at a popular fast food stop
The shooting took place just one block off one of the city’s busiest intersections as many of the metropolitan area’s 280,000-plus residents were heading home from the standard work day.
The DCI’s report indicated that a review of all videos — including some taken by witnesses — showed “significant bystander traffic” throughout the duration of the shooting. While no other bystanders were injured in the shooting, investigators processing the scene discovered damages, referred to as “defects,” to multiple pieces of private property as a result of the shooting.
“There were several defects on the southwest corner of the Burger King building. There were two (2) apparent bullet defects in an unoccupied bystander vehicle parked near the southwest corner of the building,” the report reads. “There were two bullet projectiles recovered in a nearby business as well, to the east of 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 weren’t ideal, law enforcement officers are trained to handle dangerous situations in any environment.
“[A high-traffic area] is a very challenging situation. We don't always choose the time, place or manner in which one of these happens. When people choose this action in this environment, it creates a very high consequence and very, very dangerous situation,” Thum said. “Officers are always prepared. I think sometimes they’re looked at as hyper-vigilant or over-prepared, but this is why.”
Family of James dispute DCI’s narrative
The DCI issued the shooting report just hours ahead of a planned gathering outside Burger King, where roughly 50 people planned to gather in memoriam.
“We’re left with a lot of questions, there’s no answers given to us,” Jessica Williams, a cousin to James, said at the gathering.
With many holding signs with reading “#JusticeForJacob,” Williams claimed that James was lying on the ground when officers continued to fire at him.
The DCI report does note that video taken by an uninvolved bystander did show James sitting on the ground, and that he appeared to throw something from his right hand. His firearm was later located by investigators “near” where he had been sitting, though a specific distance was not provided.
Despite doubts cast by those attending the gathering, a comprehensive review of all video gathered by authorities, interviews with Detective and Investigator and a review of the scene, the Office of the Attorney General said the two task force members were placed into 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 deemed justified.
The Aug. 9 shooting marked the ninth officer-involved shooting in South Dakota this year. Of those shootings, six have been deemed justified, while three investigations remain ongoing.
According to the website for the Office of the Attorney General, all 55 officer-involved shootings in which investigations have been completed have been deemed justified.