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Noem Orders Ravsnborg to Investigate McGowan; McGowan Opens Up, Welcomes Scrutiny

So last month, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg told that Sioux Falls paper that his office was “looking into how the Sioux Falls Police Department” responded to the now infamous but still undetailed July 13 911 call to Minnehaha County state’s attorney Aaron McGowan’s house. Then on Monday, the AG’s office said there was no investigation into the SFPD or the Minnehaha County state’s attorney’s office.

Now Governor Kristi Noem whipsaws Ravnsborg and tells his to do his job… which, of course, is to do the bidding of the Republican elites who gave him his sinecure and investigate Democrats like McGowan:

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 [Governor Kristi Noem, letter to Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, 2019.09.18].

Governor Noem signals that she wants an investigation to justify her taking action to remove the elected state’s attorney of Minnehaha County from his position:

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 [Noem, 2019.09.18].

Notice that the statute in question empowers the Governor to oust state’s attorney, sheriffs, or and their deputies and police officers, but only “after notice and hearing.” SDCL 3-17-7 appears to direct that such hearing be held in circuit court in the county of the official so targeted by the Governor. SDCL 3-17-8 directs that the judge suspend such an accused official from the official’s duties until final determination of the issues and appoint “some competent person” in the official’s place during the suspension. If the accused official prevails, the officials gets salary from the suspension period and legal costs paid by the jurisdiction that employs the official.

Wait a minute: Governor Noem can dispatch her bumbling Attorney General to lose another case for her, and she can make Minnehaha County pay for the defense costs? Minnehaha County Commissioners, you might want to send a memo before Governor Noem takes another chunk out of your budget.

Meanwhile, state’s attorney McGowan tells KELO-TV what really happened at his house: after 23 years of insomnia, chronic knee pain, and PTSD from a bad experience in the hospital, on the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death, he “had several drinks” at home, and someone else called the police to do a wellness check. McGowan says the police came to his house, he “cooperated” and “cleared quickly,” and the police had “no concerns about my well-being or anyone else’s.” And while Governor Noem might be doing McGowan a favor by removing him from his stressful job, McGowan says he’s ready to get back to work and seek reëlection:

“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 [Angela Kennecke, “A Prosecutor’s Personal Trial,” KELO-TV, 2019.09.18].

McGowan says has no objection to releasing the July 13 911 call, and he “welcomes” Noem’s call for Ravnsborg to investigate him:

Minnehaha County State's Attorney's Office, press release, 2019.09.18.
Minnehaha County State’s Attorney’s Office, press release, 2019.09.18; posted by KELO-TV, 2019.09.18.

An “accurate and credible determination of the facts”—if that’s what Governor Noem is after, she’ll need to outsource the job.

11 Comments

  1. 96Tears 2019-09-19

    The immediate reaction to Noem’s childish power grab came in a public statement yesterday from a very prominent Republican leader in Sioux Falls: “I was shocked and dismayed to learn that our South Dakota Governor chose to take this action. This action is insensitive, cruel actually, and just plain disgusting. Legality aside, I believe in respecting human dignity.”

    And now, after the KELO investigative feature last night by Angela Kennecke, Noem’s over-reach appears naked, ignorant of established facts and very amateurish. Had Noem expressed the need for an investigation when the issue first became known back in July, she wouldn’t look so ham-fisted and power hungry. At this time, with the facts having become public without Noem stirring the pot, she looks like a petty tyrant who doesn’t like the facts and is ordering the low brow attorney general to cough up some “alternative facts.” Very Trumpish. Nasty, Kristi. Nasty.

  2. jerry 2019-09-19

    GNOem is just a thin skinned Chubby hump in a dress that has done nothing for the state but hire her kin. Kennedy is the Ivanka with a taxpayer paycheck for just being. Wonder who whispered in GNOem’s ear to open up this can of stupid? Betcha it was Ravensdumb.

  3. Debbo 2019-09-19

    “An ‘accurate and credible determination of the facts’—if that’s what Governor Noem is after, she’ll need to outsource the job.”
    Funny, true and sad, all at once Cory.

    I agree. NoMa’am wants to use her office like Wimpy Whiner, to get back at some perceived slight or just for petty meanness. She’s sinking lower than the seabed. The Mariana Trench is next.

  4. leslie 2019-09-19

    Distraction from Pirosells ruling riot buster kristi is unconstitutional?

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-19

    Curious: how many other state’s attorneys have been targeted by a South Dakota governor for investigation and removal?

  6. Britt Long 2019-09-20

    Is she kidding? Not showing up to work, even where that failure is an established fact, is irrelevant to the position, at least according to the last Governor. Tax felon and former putative Bennett County State’s Attorney Ken Orrock never met the statutory residency requirement for that position and was never present in the county for more than one day a week throughout his “term.” Then-Governor Daugaard was personally asked by a local official to remove Orrock for that and other reasons related to Orrock’s incompetence, vindictiveness, dishonesty, and aggression against the Native people of Bennett County. Orrock had entered tribal land to engage in an arguably illegal search with law enforcement. The Governor declined to remove Orrock on any of those grounds. Obviously, not doing your job (and there’s no evidence that McGowan didn’t do his job) is not grounds for removal from the office of State’s Attorney in South Dakota. If we’re curious abut what’s happening here, Orrock is agains an excellent object lesson. Orrock leads a charmed life (of sorts) receiving an unimplementable sentence of “weekends” in federal prison from the federal judiciary, a sentence then altered to probation, for stealing more than $250K in taxes while a public servant. Orrock is no longer in office, has been disbarred, and lost his private security license, though you’d never know that from the advertisements presenting him as a lawyer and his continued direct inclement with Black Hills Patrol. We should expect to see him re-admitted to the Bar when he’s no longer subject to federal probation. Jim Sword (Orrock’s “conflict attorney”) knew all about Orrock’s failure to meet the statutory residency requirement, failure to show up for work, general incompetence and poor character for the position. Orrock had been a deputy in Fall River County before Rapid City Attorney Pat Goetzinger’s father attempted to get Orrock to run for the spot. If Noem’s going to go after McGowan without appearing partisan and vindictive, she’ll also need to go after Sword. Total Disclosure: Orrock beat service in a federal suit I filed regarding his attacks on me as a political opponent personally an in cooperation with local cops he directed, Jim Sword, and a tribal judge unhappy with being required to he honest. The Court seems to be willing to let him do that. He may very well skate again and go on to blight lives throughout Pennington County and beyond for many years to come. I am reminded also of Deputy State’s Attorney Brandon Taliaferro’s odyssey through the court system as a defendant no less, having been targeted by former AG Marty Jackley for destruction when Taliaferro would not use his State’s Attorney’s office to head off public knowledge of Jackley’s role in derailing investigation into the Mette family’s years-long rape of Native foster children in their home. The only job State’s Attorneys get removed for not doing in SD is assisting Republicans in hiding misconduct from the public eye. It will be very interesting to see how obedient Ravnsborg will be to Noem’s agenda. I hope McGowan has enough relatives and friends to withstand the beating Noem clearly wants Ravnsborg to administer. The only thing we all know is that the facts matter least.

  7. Tim 2019-09-20

    We have our own little mini Trump, how quaint.

  8. 96Tears 2019-09-20

    Kristi should stick with what she does best: Paying off people to collect raccoon tails. Now that’s leadership and vision our state can believe in!

  9. leslie 2019-09-20

    Wow

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-21

    Hmm… raccoon tails… maybe Kristi could start offering bounties for kids who catch their local officials drinking too much. Parents and kids would get outside, stake out the bars and the Republican fundraisers and watch for state’s attorneys and other poobahs to come staggering out to their cars.

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