When the sun rose on August 2nd, 2011, a Rapid City police officer hadn’t been killed in the line of duty for almost 95 years. It was a proud streak for South Dakota’s second biggest city that, tragically, would be broken by the time darkness fell.
It started at 1620 hours when three officers approached four subjects on a street corner after receiving a report of alcohol consumption in a playground.
The officers had no way of knowing that one of the suspects — 22-year-old Daniel Tiger — was a fugitive. He had given a fake name. And it would be days before an investigation uncovered that he recently told a witness he would rather die than go back to prison.
Yet, it would take no more than ten minutes before they learned he had a concealed Dan Wesson .357 revolver beneath his shirt.
27-year-old Officer Nick Armstrong was standing closest to Tiger when it happened. He must have seen Tiger pull the weapon because he drew his sidearm before being shot.
A Rapid City native, Armstrong grew up wanting to be a cop, often dressing in his father’s SWAT team clothes when playing paintball with his friends. Tiger’s first bullet struck him just above his bulletproof vest.
Officer Tim Doyle’s head was twisted toward his radio when Armstrong was shot. Almost immediately, Tiger turned the weapon on him.
Aged 39, Doyle had worked as an engineer in his home state of Minnesota before joining with Rapid City PD four years ago.
“He was making twice the wage he would make when he came to work for us,” said Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender. “But he told us when he was hired that he was tired of working in a field the didn’t seem to matter and wanted to do something his life that made a difference.”
Tiger’s second bullet hit Doyle near the temple before deflecting into his chest. Immediately, he fell to the pavement.
“Officer shot!” came the call through police radios across the city.
Officer James Ryan McCandless was standing 30 feet from Tiger when Doyle dropped.
“Get down! Get down!” McCandless shouted to the three other suspects. He drew his weapon and returned fire.
McCandless was close with Armstrong, said Chief Allender. “Both McCandless and Armstrong were very energetic, very eager to get involved with the department,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to stand in their way when they were going out to work because they would race to their car, work as hard as they could all day and then come in and hi five. They were just having the time of their lives.”
27-year-old McCandless was raised in Michigan and had recently purchased a house in Rapid City with his fiancé. It was a hobby farm with horses.
“He remarked to me that he couldn’t stop adopting goats and all kinds of other things out there,” said Allender during a press conference. “He was looking forward to working on that farm for years to come.”
The bullet struck him beneath his left arm but he kept shooting, firing 14 shots before falling into the street. Tiger, struck twice, also collapsed.
Local resident Kraig Buell arrived minutes after the shooting.
“I saw one officer on his back in the street in a pool of blood, and another was dazed on all fours in the corner” he told the Rapid City Journal. “The officer down on his hands and knees was holding his face, but he kept waving away people trying to help, pointing at the other guy.”
Officer McCandless was one day short of his six-year anniversary with the department when Tiger started shooting. He was pronounced dead after arrival at the Rapid City Regional Hospital.
Tiger and the other two officers fought on. Community support poured in.
“In the first 12 hours, we added over 1,000 people to our PD Facebook page,” Allender said. “Over the course of the week, we added 4,000 people to our page.”
The Rapid City Police Wives Club came up with a t-shirt for support. “We’ve sold thousands,” Allender said.
“We’ve had thousands of calls, cards, letters and things of that nature,” he said. “This is a grateful country, not just a grateful community. It’s just mind-blowing.”
Unfortunately, Armstrong wouldn’t make it. He passed away the following Saturday. Tiger also succumbed to his wounds.
Doyle spent several days feeding through a tube. A week later, he walked out of the Rapid City Regional Hospital arm in arm with his wife.
“I knew as a police officer that… something like this could happen. I was prepared for that when I took this job,” Doyle told the Rapid City Journal. “I think that helped me in the recover process because I didn’t have to go back and deal with ‘oh my God this can happen.’ I already knew it. For me it was a focus on the recovery and getting back to work.”
The following Monday, he returned to active duty. The bullet is still lodged inside his chest.
The Rapid City Police Department has set up a memorial fund to aid the families of Officer McCandless, Armstrong and Doyle. Anyone wishing to contribute can contact the Black Hills Federal Credit Union at www.blackhillsfcu.org or 1-800-482-2428.