In Memory of Officers Nicholas Keegan Armstrong & James Ryan McCandless
No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Rapid City – the Gateway to the Black Hills, City of Presidents. These are two slogans that define the hub of western South Dakota. An Upper Midwest “metropolis” of approximately 70,000, this city serves as a travel destination for many of our country’s great wonders. Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, Sturgis, Deadwood, of course the Black Hills, and the National Grasslands all surround this city, built on the “floor” of the many rolling hills in the area. The town was originally settled as a hub for gold miners, after discovery of the metal. But its discovery led to complete mining much quicker than hoped for, and soon Rapid City had to capitalize on its natural location for transportation of goods and people as it’s main draw. By the early 1900’s, Rapid City earned it’s travel destination title, as people from all the country came to see the beautiful land thanks to highways and automobiles improving by leaps and bounds. Ellsworth Air Force Base is located here, which in the years following World War II, established the city as major city in the entire region, doubling the population almost overnight. Rapid City, named after Rapid Creek, has survived many booms and bust, and in that respect has held true to its name. Rapidly growing all the time, it’s one of only a few cities under 100,000 that has sustained growth for over 100 years. However, Rapid City is not without tragedy. The famous US v. Sioux Nation of Indians case that was heard before the US Supreme Court awarded the tribes within the Sioux Nation ‘just compensation’ for what the court viewed as an illegal act of land acquisition, perpetrated by Congress, through the misappropriation of the Sioux Treaty of 1868. Our next profile is of two officers, who were killed in haste, like every other officer who has died in the line of duty. However, some chosen to use their deaths at hands of a criminal to grind a certain political ax. First, our officers.
Officers Nicholas Keegan Armstrong & James Ryan McCandless
Officer Nicholas Keegan Armstrong, a two-year veteran, and Officer James Ryan McCandless, a six-year veteran of the Rapid City Police Department were both working swing shift in the north end of Rapid City, when a call went out concerning four males drinking alcohol while walking along East Anamosa Street, at 4:30 PM on August 2nd, 2011. Officer Armstrong was first to arrive on scene, and was subsequently the primary, or contact, officer. As Officer Armstrong made contact, Officer James McCandless, and Officer Timothy Doyle arrived as secondary, or cover, officers. Officer McCandless took on full cover responsibilities, while Officer Doyle assisted with field interviews of the four males. One of the males, Daniel Tiger, did have a criminal history that was well-known to RCPD staff, and was also a suspect in two crimes in the immediate past up to this day. Tiger, knowing he was likely wanted, made the informed decision to provide a false name and date of birth to the officers, in hopes of avoiding arrest.
As Officer Armstrong walked with Tiger back to the front of his patrol vehicle, to run checks of the identifications given by the other males, and to run the name and date of birth supplied by Tiger, Tiger drew a revolver from his waistband, and began shooting. He struck Officer Armstrong, and then Officer Doyle, and as he continued to spin clockwise, he began firing on Officer McCandless. Officer Doyle shot one round in the direction of Tiger, Officer McCandless fired two rounds, striking Tiger. One of the officers announced shots fired, and all four laid on the street, waiting for emergency services to arrive. Officer McCandless died on the scene, he was 28 years old, survived by his fiancé, parents, and sister. Officer Armstrong died five days later in the hospital, he was 27 years old, survived by his parents, brothers, and extended family.
Officer Doyle sustained one gunshot wound to his temple, but through what was likely exhaustive physical and cognitive therapy, ultimately returned to full duty, and joining RCPD’s Street Crimes Unit, an assignment he had previously. Mr. Tiger died the following day in the hospital. During interviews with witnesses, and with friends of Mr. Tiger, it came to light that he had decided that rather go back to prison, dying at the hands of police, in what is known as “Suicide by Cop,” was the only way to resolve his issues. He had told many people he had no job, no money, no home, and nothing to live for. Still, other friends mentioned he secured a job as a roofer in Denver, but those claims have been left unsubstantiated. The incident touched off a divide over race in the Black Hills that is tied to the Treaty of 1868 previously mentioned. While the community showed overwhelming support for the two officers lost, as we would hope would be the case for any community experiencing such a loss, members of the Lakota, which the Oglala, Miniconjou, and Brule bands of Native Americans are a part of, said that the portrayal of Tiger as a criminal was heavy-handed and unfair. It was factually established that Tiger participated in a burglary of a convenience store, and an armed robbery, and that two weeks prior to the shooting, had been arrested by police in the area for charging towards them with a knife. In that incident, officers did not use deadly force to end the encounter.
Suffice to say that while Tiger does not present as a clean-cut example of Native Americans being treated unfairly, the series of events that led to the moment where he killed to officers seems to be a flash point for members of the Lakota Tribe, that feel they have been sat upon for over a hundred years, in their ancestral land. And that the mere existence of a municipality like Rapid City propagates the theft of land, and therefore, resources, that belong to those tribe members, and not the non-Native Americans that largely inherit the community.
One need to only conduct a web search to see that the living conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where the Lakota people largely reside, are not conditions one can live in at all. The life expectancy on the reservation is comparable to Haiti, a third-world country ripe with corruption at the very top of its leadership. Crime, particularly armed and sex assaults pervade the landscape, along with drug addiction at a rate that no amount of resources could successfully curb. True indeed, Pine Ridge needs a lot of help, and surely from the outside.
But make no mistake, whatever grievances the Lakota have, no matter how unfair the conditions Mr. Tiger had experienced in his lifetime, there is excuse for the murder of police officers responding to a call, doing their job. It was reported by one neighboring resident to the scene that one of the officers had “fist-bumped” one of the males stopped in the encounter. It’s safe to assume they knew each other, in some cordial way, where there was no threat of police becoming heavy-handed without being provoked. Some Lakota members, in the name of their history, have suggested that Tiger didn’t possibly draw his weapon first. What we know is that multiple investigations concluded that he did so, after witnesses, and those present, provided their statements. But we also know that Tiger was wanted for crimes that involved the use of weapons. Any academy in the US teaches officers, that when coming into contact with criminals who are wanted for armed crimes, that you are to treat them as though they are armed. And that is because history has taught us that armed criminals who get away with their crimes never relinquish their weapons. They may dispose of the weapons from the crime, but they will always pick up a new weapon of equal force. No matter how this incident is dissected, Mr. Tiger was surely in the wrong. We would all love for a way for him to get out of the life of crime he chose, but he had to choose that for himself first. That he compounded his issues by killing two officers is nothing short of self-destruction on full display. It is truly sad, and our sincere hope is that any young man heading down Mr. Tiger’s path recognizes this story as a wake-up call to seek out resources that can help them make better choices. We don’t want them to die on the street, in front of a church, like Tiger did. And we surely do not want to lose two young officers, like Officer Armstrong, and Officer McCandless.
At the corner of East Anamosa and Greenbrier Streets, Harvest Community Church sits. This was the scene of murder of Officers Armstrong and McCandless. A memorial stone and two benches are at the corner of the property, fitting snug to the sidewalk. The church had been closed at the time of the incident, and re-opened in the aftermath of the incident, in part to strong community support. While we advocate no religious preference, we do find it encouraging that after such a terrible loss, people do become spiritual enough to re-open a church, at the scene of that loss. That is something we can all take solace in.
In memory of Officers Nicholas Keegan Armstrong & James Ryan McCandless.