Deputies, police recognized for distinguished service

MADISON CITY COMMISSIONERS acknowledged the Medals of Honor that four local law enforcement officers received from state associations for their service during a standoff in Madison last year. Deputy Grant Lanning (left), Deputy Micah Hofman, School Resource Officer Ben Gant and Chief Deputy Sarina Talich received their Medals of Honor from the S.D. Sheriffs' and S.D. Police Chiefs' associations.

Madison's city commissioners recognized four local law enforcement officers on Monday for awards they received from state police chiefs' and sheriffs' groups.

Madison Police Chief Justin Meyer introduced Chief Deputy Sarina Talich and Deputies Micah Hofman and Grant Lanning of the Lake County Sheriff's Department and School Resource Officer Ben Gant of the Madison Police Department to the commissioners and other meeting attendees. The four were acknowledged for receiving Medal of Honor awards.

According to Lake County Sheriff Tim Walburg, the Medal of Honor awards are presented by the South Dakota Sheriffs' and South Dakota Police Chiefs' associations. The Medals of Honor are awarded to persons or law enforcement agencies that have distinguished themselves through their service.

The official language for the awards states the medals are "...presented to law enforcement officers who willingly distinguish themselves through an act of courage, involving a risk of imminent serious injury or death, for the purpose of saving or protecting a human life or while taking an armed and immediately dangerous suspect into custody."

The officers were presented with the awards on April 21, according to Kileey Lueck, administrative assistant with the Madison Police Department. The presentations took place during a joint conference conducted by the sheriffs' and police chiefs' associations that was held in Deadwood.

Local law enforcement officials indicated that the Madison and Lake County officers received the Medals of Honor for their work on Sept. 30, 2020, when local and state officers were involved in a standoff with a Madison man in a parking area on S.E. 10th St. The incident ended with what state officials described as an officer-involved shooting.

On Sept. 30, Benjamin Hernandez, 34, of Madison had taken a firearm from a relative's residence and later drove to the scene of the standoff. Hernandez's relative had called 911 and told local officers he had taken a shotgun and had attempted suicide in the past. Madison authorities started a search for Hernandez and learned from his mother through a phone call that he was at the S.E. 10th St. location. Hernandez was seated in a compact vehicle with a shotgun. The vehicle was surrounded by law enforcement officers and patrol vehicles and not allowed to leave the scene.

During the standoff, personnel with the S.D. Division of Criminal Investigation conducted negotiations with Hernandez and he also spoke with counselors from Community Counseling Services. During the conversations, authorities said Hernandez wanted officers to leave and allow him to go with his mother to a medical facility. Authorities also stated that Hernandez had threatened to shoot himself and law enforcement officers.

During negotiations that lasted for a couple of hours, Hernandez's vehicle was surrounded by about 10 local and state patrol vehicles and their personnel. After he refused to surrender, authorities fired two "less than lethal" ordnance at Hernandez. One round hit his vehicle, and the second round struck Hernandez near his pelvis after it traveled through an open vehicle door.

Authorities reported that Hernandez stayed in the vehicle, and later pointed the muzzle of the shotgun at several officers. At about 2:30 p.m. that day, an officer shot Hernandez with a rifle and wounded him in the upper chest. An official affidavit stated that authorities believed the shotgun was ready to fire with Hernandez's finger on the trigger and he had pointed the weapon at four officers.

After the shooting, authorities stated that Hernandez was given medical treatment at the scene and transported to the Madison hospital. He was later transported to a Sioux Falls medical facility.

Hernandez was charged on Sept. 30 with four counts of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. On Oct. 15, he was charged with a habitual offender violation. He pleaded not guilty to all charges during an Oct. 28 court session. His court case is currently pending. A jury trial that was scheduled for March 25-26 was canceled.