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RCPD says recent gun violence involves gangs, 'broken' juvenile justice system

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After a surge of recent shootings, the Rapid City Police Department weighed in on the uptick in gun violence in the city that has left four dead and three injured after a total of eight shootings.

RCPD Capt. James Johns said the city has had enough and pointed to lack of leadership and accountability with the youth in the city, as well as the influence of a violent gang resurgence. 

“We’re not going to put up with this. I think the good citizens of Rapid City have had enough, and we’re just not going to tolerate this level of violence in our community,” Johns said.

A majority of the shootings with named victims and suspects have involved young people. On Aug. 17, a minor was shot and injured. Law enforcement named 17-year-old Robert Yellow Bird of Sioux Falls as the suspect.

Yellow Bird, 15-year-old Rochelle Janis of Rapid City and 20-year-old Chase Quick Bear were named as persons of interest in the most deadly shooting, which took the lives of 29-year-old Joseph Standing Bear of Norris and 37-year-old Petan Milk of Rapid City on Aug. 20 at Knollwood Heights Apartments on Surfwood Drive.

Yellow Bird, Quick Bear and a third person, 40-year-old Benita Cisneros — the suspected get-away driver — have been arrested. Janis is still unaccounted for. Quick Bear has charges against him in Pennington County Court for aiding and abetting aggravated assault on Aug. 17 on the 1300 block of Wood Avenue, where the city-county Special Response Team served a search warrant on Aug. 21 looking for one of the suspects in the shooting. Magistrate Judge Scott Bogue said the incident was gang-related.

The RCPD stated that the Aug. 20 deaths were also likely gang-related. Milk and Standing Bear’s social media indicates involvement in The Boyz, identified with the tag TBZ, which appeared on both of their accounts. Johns said the gangs in Rapid City are not as organized and don't follow the hierarchy of traditional gangs.

Johns said the alarming element of young people involved in violence can be attributed to the pandemic and a lack of accountability, specifically in the juvenile justice system in South Dakota, which he called “broken.”

“There’s been issues with being able to lock up dangerous juveniles. There’s been issues with repeat offenders on numerous occasions for the same crime, and I think the whole system is frustrated,” he said. “I think there's wonderful people doing their best in the juvenile system. But right now, the juvenile system is part of the problem that leads us to these violent kids.”

Johns said the lack of accountability from adult role models and the state leads to kids thinking they can get away with anything as well as leaving them open to being led down “a path they don’t need to be on.”

“These kids are looking for something and, unfortunately, these gangs fill a void and that’s a sad road to go down,” Johns said. “Gangs step in when there’s a lack of leadership or lack of role models and things like that.”

Johns said the RCPD is working with community partners to fill that void. Tyler Read, community engagement specialist for the RCPD, mans a substation at Knollwood Townhouses, which is located just across North Maple Avenue from Knollwood Heights Apartments and was the scene of the shooting death of Cory Old Horse, 32, of Interior.

Read organizes bake sales and art projects with neighborhood kids and the substation acts as a space for kids to socialize with their friends, draw and play video games.

Johns also noted work with I Am Legend, Journey On, local churches and community groups.

“It’s gonna take time. That’s one of the things we’re up against. We’re talking about generation change, and that does take time,” he said.

Other shootings that involved young people include a 4:55 p.m. Aug. 23 shooting near a shopping center on New York Street. Police arrested 19-year-old Jace Runs Against of Rapid City and 21-year-old Alize West of Rapid City. Police said the shooting started after a verbal argument that led to West alleging firing a gun at a man in front of a business at 13 New York Street.

18-year-old Kasey Arehart was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault and one count of discharge of a firearm at a motor vehicle after allegedly shooting at three teenagers in a vehicle on Aug. 21 at the intersection of Lacrosse and Centre Streets near the Central States Fairgrounds.

The shooting followed another report of gunfire near the fair the night before. No one was injured or arrested in that incident. The Pennington County Sheriff's Office has not responded to questions asking who is a suspect.

The sheriff's office reduced the fair entrance hours from closing at midnight to closing at 10 p.m. after the shootings, which both occurred close to midnight.

Other shootings may or may not have involved minors. On Aug. 10 at Knollwood Townhomes on North Maple Avenue, Cory Old Horse, 32, of Interior was shot dead and another man was injured. No suspects have been named, although the RCPD said they “have a number of people identified that we have visited with and talked with,” but none of the interviews have led to a clear picture of what happened.

“Everybody has their version of the truth,” Johns said. “And unfortunately, it’s our job sometimes to weed through that and define exactly what happened when everybody’s version of the truth is different.”

The RCPD is also awaiting forensic results in the case.

The investigation into the shooting of 30-year-old Acey Morrison Sunday morning at a mobile home on Country Road is ongoing, according to the most recent PCSO reports. The PCSO has not announced any arrests but say they’ve identified the shooter and interviewed them. Reports leave it unclear if the shooter is the homeowner, who the PCSO said is cooperating.

Police are still asking for the public’s help in finding Janis.

“If there is an element of retaliation to this, you do not want a 15-year-old kid getting caught up in the middle of it,” Johns said. “Unfortunately, she is a runaway. Unfortunately, she is part of this investigation, and we are searching for her.”

— Contact Shalom Baer Gee at — 

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