August 28 — SIOUX FALLS — Two police officers in Sioux Falls were deemed justified to fire 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) released Attorney General Mark Vargo’s decision on Friday, Aug. 26, calling on a Sioux Falls Police Department officer and a Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) detective 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 — made up of law enforcement officers from several local and state entities — began a traffic stop on a Pontiac Bonneville near the intersection of West 12th Street and South Williams Avenue, in western Sioux. Falls, after allegedly witnessing drug activity in the vehicle.
The vehicle stopped in a Burger King parking lot and three of the four occupants quickly exited the vehicle, said Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum.
According to the DCI report, James removed a firearm from his waistband and fired three shots at authorities. An MCSO detective, called “detective” in the report, and a Sioux Falls police officer, called “investigator” in the report, returned fire on James.
“Jacob Michael James kept firing at them,” the report said. “Jacob Michael James was shot multiple times by the detective and detective and later died as a result of those injuries.”
Ballistic tests conducted on Detective and Detective’s firearms at the South Dakota Forensic Lab in Pierre revealed that Detective fired seven shots while Detective fired 14. An autopsy on James determined that he was hit by four of 21 bullets fired by police – with one bullet each hitting 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 for 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 detained by authorities.
The shooting took place just steps from one of the city’s busiest intersections, as many of the metropolitan area’s more than 280,000 residents were heading home from the standard workday.
The DCI’s report indicated that a review of all videos – including some taken by witnesses – showed “significant traffic from bystanders” during the shooting. Although no other bystanders were injured in the shooting, investigators processing the scene discovered damage, known 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 statement read. report. “Two bullet projectiles were also found in a nearby business, east of Burger King.”
Two bullet holes were also discovered in the driver’s door of an unmarked MCSO vehicle on the property.
In a press conference on Aug. 10, Thum noted that while the timing and location of the shooting were not 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 way any of these happen. When people in this environment choose this action, it creates a very high consequence and a very, very dangerous situation,” Thum said. “Officers are always prepared. I think they are sometimes seen as hyper-vigilant or over-prepared, but here’s why.”
The DCI released the shooting report hours before a scheduled meeting outside Burger King, where about 50 people planned to gather in memoriam.
“We have a lot of questions, no answers have been given to us,” Jessica Williams, a cousin of James, said at the meeting.
With many signs saying “#JusticeForJacob”, Williams claimed James was on the ground when officers kept firing at him.
The DCI report does note that on video taken by an uninvolved bystander, James was sitting on the floor and appeared to be throwing something from his right hand. His firearm was later found by investigators “near” where he had been, although no specific distance was specified.
Despite doubts from those who attended the meeting, a comprehensive review of all video collected by authorities, interviews with the detective and investigator, and an assessment of the scene, the attorney general’s office said the two members of the task force were engaged 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 deemed justified.
The August 9 shooting marked the ninth shooting involving officers in South Dakota this year. Of those shootings, six were considered justified, while three investigations are still ongoing.
According to the Attorney General’s Office website, all 55 shootings involving the police and closing the investigation have been found to be justified.