A former prosecutor says what happened to the Minnehaha County state’s attorney isn’t that uncommon in a job that can take a toll on your mental health. Following Angele Kennecke’s Eye on KELOLAND, A prosecutor’s personal trial, many of you have asked us why we talked with Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan about his leave of absence.
“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,” McGowan said during Wednesday’s story.
McGowan contacted KELOLAND News to tell us about the stresses of the job and why he took time away from the office. Scott Abdallah is a former prosecutor for Lincoln County, who is now in private practice. Abdallah shared many of the same stresses McGowan talked about.
First of all, Abdallah isn’t commenting on McGowan’s situation, nor on Governor Noem’s call for investigation into his leave of absence. KELOLAND News did not ask him to do so. Abdallah says he’s known McGowan for 20 years, and has the utmost respect for him. He says McGowan is highly respected among attorneys and within the state bar.
Abdallah served as Lincoln County State’s Attorney for seven years, and he says that was five more years than he thought he’d do the job. During his time as a prosecutor, one of Abdallah’s biggest cases was Donald Moeller.
“I look back on that now and I was 29 years old. I think being young and somewhat naive helped get me through the horrific evidence in that case,” Abdallah said.
The state executed Moeller seven years ago for raping and killing of nine-year-old Becky O’Connell in 1990.
“It was a toll for me,” Abdallah said.
This case, and several other criminal cases, required Abdallah to look at murders, autopsies, and brutal crime scenes.
“Those images, you can never get them out of your head. I mean, they’re with you for the rest of your life,” Abdallah said.
The job has satisfying moments, but Abdallah says being a prosecutor and shouldering non-stop crime, long workdays, and little sleep add up.
“It’s every day. 365 days a week. It’s weekends. You’re getting calls in the middle of the night, often times, from law enforcement, to talk about warrants and immediate crime scenes,” Abdallah said.
Abdallah says law enforcement in general is a tough field that can test anyone. He hopes this continues the conversation about mental health, and inspires others to ask for or give someone help.
“It’s a great sacrifice, but there are, you know, rewards that come with the job. Knowing you’re trying to get a perpetrator off the streets to protect the public,” Abdallah said.