News >> Browse Articles >> Officer Down News


SD Prison Guard Slain During Failed Escape Attempt

SD Prison Guard Slain During Failed Escape Attempt

A guard house sits atop a wall of the South Dakota State Penitentiary, where a guard was shot and killed during a failed escape attempt, Tuesday, April 12, 2011, in Sioux Falls, S.D. The two suspects in the case were apprehended. (AP)

Associated Press

April 13, 2011

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — One of the inmates suspected of killing a 63-year-old guard during a failed South Dakota prison break had escaped the state penitentiary two other times during his 27-year criminal history.

The state Department of Corrections says inmates Rodney Berget and Eric Robert, both 48, tried to escape shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday, assaulting and killing officer Ronald Johnson in the process. The Corrections Department said the inmates were apprehended on the prison grounds and taken to a jail in Sioux Falls. They have not yet been charged in the guard’s killing.

Berget has been in and out of South Dakota’s prison system since the mid-1980s and is serving life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping. He was convicted of escaping from the penitentiary in 1984 while serving time on a possession of stolen property charge. Then, in 1987, he and five other inmates broke out of the same facility on Memorial Day by cutting through bars in an auto shop. Berget was caught in mid-July of that year.

John Fitzgerald, Lawrence County state’s attorney, thought Berget would have no more opportunities to commit crimes after he pleaded guilty in Dec. 2003 to attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend.

“It’s shocking to me as a prosecuting attorney, but he’s a very violent person.” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said that on June 2, 2003, Berget waited outside a house in Lead for the boyfriend to show up. Before the boyfriend could open the front door, Berget shot through the door’s glass window, hitting the man in the stomach, then entered the house to try to kill him, Fitzgerald said.

According to Fitzgerald, Berget’s ex-girlfriend stopped Berget when she drew a gun from the bed stand.

“When he was captured, he confessed that his intent was to go in there and kill, murder the boyfriend,” Fitzgerald said. "And then he also said that his intent was to kidnap and torture the woman.

“Luckily she had a gun … otherwise, I think, he would have got the job done.”

Berget, of Aberdeen, also was convicted in Meade County for kidnapping a convenience store clerk in Sturgis. He was arrested and the clerk escaped after troopers used road spikes to stop the car near Midland.

Robert, the other suspect in Tuesday’s killing and attempted escape, is serving an 80-year sentence for a kidnapping conviction. In that case, an 18-year-old woman told police a man posing as a plainclothes police officer pulled over her car near Black Hawk, told her he needed to search it and then forced her into the trunk. She used her cell phone to call for help, and she was found unharmed.

Robert, of Piedmont, pleaded guilty to kidnapping in a 2005 plea bargain.

Johnson, who worked at the penitentiary for more than 23 years, was pronounced dead at a hospital, and a second guard suffered minor injuries in the incident. The department did not release the second guard’s name or further details about the escape attempt or attack.

Johnson, a father of two and grandfather of six, died on his birthday, said his son, Jesse Johnson.

“That’s kind of the gut-wrenching thing about it,” he told the Argus Leader newspaper.

Jesse Johnson said his father, known to friends and family as R.J., had lived through a riot at the penitentiary in 1993 and knew the danger of his job but never dwelled on it.

“He loved to relax and play with his grandkids,” the son said. “He never had a bad thing to say about anybody.”

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said the state Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating and more information would be released once the initial investigation and charging decisions are complete.

If the inmates are charged and convicted of murdering Johnson while trying to escape, prosecutors could seek the death penalty.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the state will act swiftly to bring the accused to justice and ensure the safety of prison staff.

“This incident is a somber reminder that our prison guards put themselves at risk, every day, to protect South Dakota from our worst criminals,” Daugaard said in a statement.

Before Tuesday’s incident, two corrections officers had been killed by inmates in the 130-year-history of the state penitentiary, the Argus Leader reported. Corrections records show that 72-year-old Warden Eugene Reiley was killed in 1936, and officer Edward Jaworski was killed in 1951.

Johnson is the first law enforcement official killed in the line of duty in South Dakota since the 2009 slaying of Turner County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Mechels by 21-year-old Ethan Johns, who was sentenced to life.

Associated Press writer Chet Brokaw in Pierre contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

  • Blueline_max50


    almost 3 years ago


    UPDATE: Cop Killer Eric Robert gets sentanced to Death.

  • 4a43d2b5_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Rest in Peace Brother

  • Absolutelawenf_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Rest in Peace

  • Photo_max50


    over 3 years ago


    R.I.P. our law enforcement brother!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    RIP my Brother. Prayers to the family and friends

  • Dhs_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Rest In Peace, Brother.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    May you rest in peace, my brother. May God comfort and bless your family and friends.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Rest in peace

    my prayers are for your family,freind,and co-worker

    futher more prayers for all LEO's around the world risking the lives to prtect us not matter where we are in this world..

  • 101_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Rest in Peace.

  • 09_011_max50


    over 3 years ago


    RIP, prayers for the family, friends and co-workers.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Rest in peace CO Johnson. Condolences and prayers to your family. Also condolences to your co-workers for their loss. When a loved one is murdered it leaves a hole in everyone's heart that can never be filled, it's not natural. It's long overdue to exercise real capitol punishment! Not the antisceptic, namby pamby needle, unless it's filled with rat poison! I'm just a little tired of seeing these monsters committing atrocious crimes against LEOS and innocent civilians then allowed to languish in prison at taxpayer expense for 20+ yrs with 3 hots and a cot,medical care,free college and who knows what other perks! Oh darn I forgot! They have rights!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Tell me again why we babysit this kind of POS instead of spending a little on the electric bill and the incenerator. How many good people must be kidnapped, tortured, or killed before the bleeding hearts realize that they are just a waste of air that good people could be breathing. Some people are just evil.

  • Img_3794ma26750579-0005_max50


    over 3 years ago


    To family and friends:
    'God didn’t promise days without pain,
    laughter without sorrow, sun without rain;
    but He did promise strength for the day,
    comfort for the tears and light for the way'.

    RIP Officer Johnson.

  • Eagle-3_max50


    over 3 years ago


    As you departed the bonds of this earth and touched the face of God, know that the service and dedication you had for your department, its fellow officers and the citizens of your community will never be forgotten. May God comfort in this time of sorrow your family, your fellow officers and all those whose lives you have touched. RIP brother, we’ll take it from here.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Officer Ronald Johnson, rest now most noble warrior on angels wings. You have served your time, done your duty and earned your peace. god bless the peacemakers. St. Michael protect us all.

    On another note, we are not guards. We are sworn law enforcement officers who patrol a prison beat. Without correctional officers, how safe would you really be?

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a criminal justice degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.