SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – An Old West gun battle re-enactor who injured three South Dakota tourists when live ammunition was fired instead of blanks faces a federal weapons charge because he should not have been carrying a gun since he's a convicted felon, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The tourists were hit during the June 17 reenactment staged by the Dakota Wild Bunch, who use blanks when they perform several times a week on a street in Hill City, a tourist town in South Dakota's Black Hills.
The bullets shattered a leg bone of Carrol Knutson, 65, of Birchwood, Minn.; hit the forearm and elbow of John Ellis, 48, an optometrist from South Connellsville, Penn.; and caused minor injuries to Jose Pruneda, 53, of Alliance, Neb.
Now, 49-year-old Paul Doering of Summerset faces a felon in possession of a firearm charge because of his previous criminal record, said Mark Salter, a U.S. Attorney's office spokesman.
Doering made an initial appearance in a federal court in Fargo, N.D., on Wednesday morning but did not enter a plea. He's ordered to appear in federal court in Rapid City on Aug. 11 for an arraignment, Salter said.
An indictment issued last week was sealed by the federal court, he added
The sheriff's office submitted its investigative reports to the Pennington County state's attorney's office and the U.S. Attorney's office, said chief deputy state's attorney Lara Roetzel.
Roetzel said her office doesn't have any intention of filing state charges against Doering.
Investigators have not made any comments on why the incident happened, but Hill City Administrator Brett McMacken said Wednesday that it appears to have been accidental.
The mock shootouts between lawmen and outlaws, which are sponsored by the Hill City Chamber of Commerce, have been held in the town for at least a couple of decades, and the Dakota Wild Bunch has been doing the show for about four years.
The shows have since been suspended.
Investigators earlier this month found that Doering had served more than five years in Minnesota prisons on multiple felony convictions.
South Dakota law prohibits a person convicted of a felony in South Dakota or another state from possessing or having control of a firearm for 15 years.
Federal law prevents felons convicted of crimes punishable by more than one year in prison from possessing any firearm or ammunition unless the person has had their civil rights restored by the state where they were convicted.
McMacken said he has no idea whether background checks were done on the re-enactors. He said the city had an agreement with the chamber for the shows to be staged, "and that was the limit of our involvement in that group."
A message left for Brenda Nolting, the chamber president, was not immediately returned.
Doering was imprisoned from April 1982 to January 1984 on two first-degree assault charges, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
He returned to prison on Dec. 14, 1990 to serve time for second-degree burglary but was convicted of escape less than two months later, which extended his stay. He was released in May 1992. In October 2001, he began serving another sentence for escape, which was extended by a Dec. 2001 escape conviction. He got out in May 2004, according to the department.
No phone listing could be found for Doering, and attorney information was not immediately available.