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Native Sun News: Son of Tim Giago's wife killed in police shooting

Standing outside of the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, Steve Keesey and Jim Roark recount the events to Native Sun News. Photo by Richie Richards

Victims and family ask for changes in South Dakota gun laws
‘I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, like what happened to Earl’
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– When Rapid City Police Officer (RCPD) Barry Young arrived at the Cornerstone Rescue Mission on Sunday, Feb. 28, in response to a call regarding an active shooter, he identified Earl W. Hicks, 44, as the shooter.

According to Jim Roark and Steve Keesey, Earl Hicks exited his vehicle around 2 p.m. and approached his two friends sitting on the picnic table behind the Mission. From his back waste band, Hicks pulled out a “38 special”, and after saying, “It’s all your fault!” to the pair, allegedly began to fire at Jim Roark, 57.

Roark was treated at Regional Hospital for a gunshot wound to the chest and was released on Friday, March 4.

Officer Young’s training taught him to respond to an immediate threat of physical harm to himself or others with deadly force. According to an RCPD press release on the Sunday evening of the shooting, “The first officer on scene was confronted by the suspect who was wielding a handgun.”

At the time of the writing of this article, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) had yet to release their report regarding this incident. But if RCPD Chief Karl Jegeris’ comment in the press release is any indication, this will undoubtedly be regarded as a justifiable use of deadly force by Officer Young.

“Many people frequent the location where this shooting took place, and we may never know just how many lives were saved by a rapid police response. I’m especially thankful no officers were injured by this dangerous suspect,” the police chief stated.

The soon-to-be-announced justifiable homicide of Earl Hicks was no doubt a heroic act by Officer Young in saving the lives of those in the area.

But the killing of Earl Hicks, and many mentally-ill persons like Mr. Hicks across South Dakota over the years, can be a preventable occurrence.

Hicks was born with a heart condition which hospitalized him for several months as a child. This condition limited his physical health and lifestyle into adulthood.

Over the last few years, Hicks’ mental health had continued to deteriorate and he was recently diagnosed with having paranoid schizophrenia and received medication for symptoms from numerous visits to health professionals- including Regional Behavioral Health Center.

Through the State of South Dakota, Earl Hicks was in the Representative Payee Program which “provides financial management for the Social Security and SSI payments” of recipients incapable of financial responsibility. Earl Hicks had a payee and was also on Medicaid and Medicare.

The State of South Dakota helped pay for Earl Hicks’ visits to behavioral health specialists and the resulting medications he was prescribed.

While cleaning their son’s apartment, Tim and Jackie Giago had found a receipt, ammunition and a box for a gun allegedly purchased by Hicks. In the days leading up to Sunday, Feb. 28, Hicks had purchased a handgun from the Fair Deal Pawn & Gun in Rapid City, according to the Giagos.

The Giagos immediately called detectives to retrieve these items and turned them over as evidence in DCI’s investigation.

Native Sun News went to Fair Deal Pawn & Gun to inquire about the purchasing of a handgun. Upon request, the employee provided a Firearms Transaction Record Part I – Over-The-Counter application approval form.

The application process is done through the U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE) and according to the pawn shop employee, a person can walk out the door with gun-in-hand “in about 20 minutes.”

Employees must enter the applicant’s information online; the applicant is either immediately eligible, or there is a five-day “delay” issued, or is denied, according to the Fair Deal employee.

The firearms application asks a series of questions including; physical-identifying factors of self, social security number, ethnicity and race markers, birth place and current physical address.

In question 11.e. on the ATFE application form, the buyer is asked, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”

The buyer is required to check mark boxes “Yes” or “No”. This is a self-identifying marker. Earl Hicks was known to self-medicate with street drugs, including methamphetamine, according to his mother.

In question 11.f. on the ATFE application form, the buyer is asked, “Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective (which includes a determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that you are a danger to yourself or to others or are incompetent to manage your own affairs) OR have you ever been to a mental institution?”

“Adjudicated mentally defective” is defined as “A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease…”

The buyer is required to check mark boxes “Yes” or “No”. Currently in South Dakota, there is not a means to verify the mental health or red-flag a buyer due to mental illness. Earl Hicks was never court-ordered to a mental health facility and other than minor traffic infractions had a clean record.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s website, “Federal law prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who has been ‘adjudicated as a mental defective’ or involuntarily ‘committed to any mental health institution’. No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database.”

The report continues, “South Dakota requires the board of mental illness to report within seven working days any person involuntarily committed because he or she is a danger to self or others to the Attorney General for reporting to NICS.”

To date, South Dakota does not require a recipient of mental health benefits through state programs to be placed on the NICS database which the FBI uses to perform background checks on potential purchasers of firearms.

The only precautionary step to this process is a yes or no self reporting question on the Firearms Transaction Record Part I – Over-The-Counter application approval form available in such places as the Fair Deal & Pawn near North Rapid.

Perhaps if the State of South Dakota was required to provide names of individuals receiving state benefits for voluntary commitments and/or for being diagnosed as mentally-ill, instances such as the shooting of Jim Roark allegedly by Earl Hicks could be a preventable occurrence.

Native Sun News interviewed Steve Keesey and Jim Roark who have chosen to forgive Earl Hicks by saying, “That was not the Earl we know who did this. That look in his eye was pure evil. We’ve never seen him like that before.”

Keesey, Roark and Hicks were residents and regular visitors to the Cornerstone Rescue Mission; spending countless hours together visiting, laughing and “smoking cigs” together in the area where the shooting allegedly occurred.

Keesey shared humorous stories of the summer he and Hicks had landed a temporary job at the Buffalo Chip, “He was really enjoying it up there in Sturgis. We had a blast at the Chip. I can remember his ear-to-ear grin seeing all the people. Earl was my friend,” said Keesey.

According to Keesey, Hicks had come “around the corner and stood there staring at us and asked us why we had messed up his life.” Not knowing Hicks’ mental state, Roark and Keesey began to ask Earl “what’s going on?” trying to get their friend to explain his aggressive posturing.

This is when Hicks allegedly reached behind his back and pulled out a “38 automatic” and shot Roark in the chest at a distance of approximately 2 feet away, according to Roark.

Steve Keesey ran and Hicks had given chase into a fenced-in area of the Mission’s property. Several shots were allegedly fired at Keesey by Hicks, soon after Officer Young had arrived. Hicks was shot and later died at Regional Hospital.

Keesey had gone to Jim Roark and immediately “plugged his entry and exit wounds” until medical professionals arrived.

When asked if he thought Hicks had gone to the Mission to “massacre” people, as reported in the Rapid City Journal, Keesey said, “I think he came down here to kill me. Again, I’m not in Earl’s head, so I don’t know if that was his intention.”

Keesey expressed his concerns for the lack of security at the Cornerstone Rescue Mission. The veteran would like to see outside cameras, a security fence with limited access in and out, lights outside of the building on the property, saying, “If you light this place up, trouble is going to stay away. This city has a way of shutting things like this out, or hoping they will just go away.”

In regards to gun laws, both Keesey and Roark agree that Earl Hicks should not have been allowed to purchase a hand gun. Before the purchaser is allowed to buy a firearm, “They need to talk to family members, employers, neighbors, doctors, friends or anyone in their life. They should have to provide 5 references or something,” said Keesey.

Jackie Giago, deeply mourning the loss of her son told NSN, “I just want to know how he was able to get the gun. And why did they have to shoot him. Have they (RCPD officers) gone through training in dealing with the mentally ill?”

“I think the world of Jackie. She’s an incredible lady. And I have a lot of respect for Tim, he’s a great man,” Keesey told Native Sun News. “Please send my condolences to them both for me. He was my friend. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, like what happened to Earl”

A state law prohibiting the purchase of a firearm by an un-adjudicated, mentally-ill person who is receiving state aid to help with his/her mental health issues would serve to protect the community at large.

The “Earl Hicks Bill” or similar legislation has yet to be written.

For more stories visit the all new Native Sun News website: Victims and family ask for changes in South Dakota gun laws

(Contact Richie Richards at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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