A prosecutor’s personal trial

Eye on KELOLAND

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Tuesday, Sioux Falls Police Public Information Officer Sam Clemens told KELOLAND News that “well being checks”are not listed on the police logs, for privacy concerns.  However, he later clarified the issue to say they are not listed on the police report logs sent to the media, but may show up on the 30-day police call log on the City of Sioux Falls website. The call to McGowan’s home on July 13 is no longer online, but KELOLAND News has requested those records from that time period. 

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – The top prosecutor in Minnehaha County was out of the office for a couple of months this summer.

Aaron McGowan was elected as State’s Attorney back in 2008.

Like most county prosecutor’s offices across the country, the office is understaffed and overworked as the crime rate continues to rise.

Burnout and stress were a couple of reasons for McGowan’s absence, but not the only ones. 

Speculation over why the prosecutor was off work ramped up in the last few weeks, as well as reports that there may have been some kind of organized law enforcement cover-up to hide the real reason.

Wednesday afternoon, Republican Governor Kristi Noem called for the Attorney General to investigate McGowan, who is a Democrat. 

McGowan sits down exclusively with KELOLAND News to set the record straight and to let people know he’s as committed to his job as ever.

Over the last decade, McGowan’s office has looked like this. Paperwork on criminal cases is piled up on nearly every surface.

Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan at work in his office.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in this job. I’ve been to two executions, countless child autopsies, countless crime scenes and you’re always feeding the meter. You don’t remove those images or horrible things we see and deal with on a daily basis. So that was part of it,” McGowan said.

It’s all part of what McGowan says led to a call to 911 to his home on July 13.

Angela Kennecke: Why are you talking to me now?
McGowan: Well because I wanted to set the record straight. There were reports out there that were false. Because of the questions out there, I just wanted to set the record straight and let everybody know I’m back and there wasn’t an issue, a cover up or a crime.

McGowan described a personal “perfect storm” that happened on July 12, the day before the 911 call to his house. He said he’d been avoiding seeing a doctor for his knee after four surgeries, a staph infection and hospitalization back in 1996.
 
“Since that time, I did not go back to the knee doctor, even though I’ve needed a knee replacement for 23 years, and I’ve had 23 years of chronic pain with no cartilage. And that pain has just gotten debilitating over time. I had fairly severe PTSD from that experience in the hospital,” McGowan said.

McGowan says he also never fully dealt with the loss of his mother and had just marked the one year anniversary of her death.

“I didn’t grieve. I didn’t cry. I went to work the very next day,” McGowan said.

McGowan told us on July 13, he was not in a good state.

“I was home by myself. I did have a few drinks to numb the pain and to self-medicate. There was a third party aware that I was struggling with the PTSD. And they called 911 to do a well-being check on me,” McGowan said.

Kennecke: Were you ever a danger to yourself?
McGowan: No, absolutely not.
Kennecke: Were you intoxicated? Were you drunk?
McGowan: I had several drinks. When law enforcement was there, no.

Kennecke: You mentioned earlier there were rumors going around and I had heard some of those rumors as well. Was there any gun involved at your home?
McGowan: No, no. I have guns. I have a gun on me right now.

But McGowan says the officers responding to the call did their job.

McGowan: I cooperated and let them in my house. I cleared quickly. I was fine. They had no issue. They had no concerns about my well-being or anyone else’s. They left.
Kennecke: But when police are called to a residence, it typically goes over the scanner and it typically shows up in the log and that wasn’t the case for this July 13th call?
McGowan: I don’t know and I haven’t looked at that. I was told they were following all police and procedures that there was a well-being check.

KELOLAND Investigates has scoured the police logs for that weekend, and there was no record of the call to McGowan’s home and here’s why.

The call came in as a well-being check. According to police, well-being checks for mental health, suicides, most rapes and sexual assaults are not listed on Sioux Falls police report logs sent to the media.

Police cite this law protecting confidential criminal justice information from being released to the public that’s “associated with a mental health or a chemical dependency or abuse intervention.”

Kennecke: Did you ever ask that something be off the record or private?
McGowan:  No, I was told it would be handled delicately like everybody else.

McGowan says the incident made him realize he needed to reach out for help.

“My blood pressure and my heart rate where extremely elevated with the PTSD and work stress, I was kind of working myself to death over a long period of time now. I haven’t had a vacation in over a year and I have severe insomnia and I don’t get a lot of sleep because of the stress I have. I went to the hospital and I saw several doctors and was working through all those things in a healthy manner before I came back,” McGowan said.

McGowan says now he’s ready to get on with his work.

“I absolutely intend on running for State’s Attorney again,” McGowan said.

Kennecke: Why did you want to run again? You mentioned the overwhelming caseloads, some of the disturbing cases you have to deal with and how they affect you personally? Why would anybody want this job?
McGowan:  Part of it is, I just feel duty bound to do it.  I have no other aspirations for any other office. This is the office I love and job I love.

Kennecke: What can you say to the public to regain their confidence if any has been lost? Should they have confidence in you?
McGowan: I think they absolutely should. I haven’t done anything wrong. I just took care of myself for the first time in a long time.

McGowan told us he had no objection to the release of the 9-1-1 call, but Metro Communications cited several state laws, including those used by the Sioux Falls police department as reasons for not making the call public.

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This week the Attorney General’s office issued this statement to KELOLAND News on Tuesday:

“There is no investigation on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General, nor the Division of Criminal Investigation, of the Sioux Falls Police Department.  Likewise there is no investigation into the Minnehaha County States Attorney.
Acting in line with our office’s duty as the chief law enforcement agency of the state we have asked questions regarding policy and procedure followed in Sioux Falls, but that has been the extent of our involvement.

However, on Wednesday, Governor Kristi Noem called on the AG’s office to investigate. Noem says the governor has the power to remove McGowan if he’s found incompetent or guilty of drunkenness.

Dear Honorable Jason Ravnsborg,

 A matter of public interest was reported by the media on at least two occasions regarding the extended absence of the elected official holding the office of the Minnehaha County State’s Attorney.  The Attorney General has the duty of exercising supervision over state’s attorneys in matters pertaining to their duties of office.  Due to these media reports, the public information that has been disseminated, and several inquiries into the Office of the Governor, our Office formally requests an investigation into this matter.

Further, the governor has the power and duty to remove officials who “willfully fail, neglect, or refuse to perform any of the duties imposed upon him by, or to enforce any of the provisions of law relating to intoxicating liquors, or who shall willfully fail, neglect, or refuse to perform any duties imposed upon them by law, or who shall be guilty of intoxication or drunkenness, or who shall be guilty of the violation of any law, or who shall assist or connive in the violation of any law, or who shall be grossly incompetent to perform the duties of his office.”  SDCL 3-17-3.  An investigation is necessary to determine if grounds for removal exist or not.  This is a matter of public interest and swift resolution is prudent.

Sincerely,

Kristi Noem

Governor

Watch the full interview below:

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