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Noem Releases Ravnsborg Report on McGowan, Alleges Quid Pro Quo Pressure on Female Employee

Three weeks ago, Governor Kristi Noem asked Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to deliver Minnehaha County state’s attorney Aaron McGowan’s head on a legal platter.

Jason Ravnsborg got asked to do legal work. That should be all we need to know that it’s not going to happen, right?

A.G. Ravnsborg did send Governor Noem his homework on October 1, thirteen days after Noem gave him the assignment to dig up evidence she could use to oust McGowan under SDCL 3-17-3, a law enacted during Prohibition to allow the Governor to boot local prosecutors and other officials who failed to uphold the booze ban. McGowan was absent from his office from mid-July through mid-September, in relation, it seems, to a serious bender that drew a 9-1-1 call from a concerned third party but which resulted in no arrest or other police action.

Ravnsborg synopsizes his office’s findings in 36 bullet points, says there is not enough evidence to charge the Minnehaha County state’s attorney with a felony or misdemeanor. A.G. Ravnsborg acknowledges that Noem has the authority to remove a state’s attorney for being a drunken stumble-bum (actually, drunkenness and stumble-bummery are each sufficient conditions to invoke SDCL 3-17-3’s ouster by governor), but “To aid you in your decision-making process,” A.G. Ravnsborg gently submits three precedential cases, in all of which apparently suspect officials were not removed from office.

Ravnsborg’s clear signal to Noem is, “Please don’t make me defend you for attacking McGowan, because I’ll lose that case, too.”

That does not mean Ravnsborg is saying McGowan is a righteous dude. Far from it: Ravnsborg lays out statements (not direct quotes, not from named sources, not, apparently, under oath) that should make defenders of McGowan queasy. According to “some members of the Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Office,”

27. …McGowan would send messages via Snapchat throughout the day saying “bar?” indicating that they should to the bar to drink.

…29. …McGowan would would ask (employee(s) to bring alcohol to his house when they were working during regular business hours and he was at home.

…31. …McGowan was, at times, too inebriated to drive to work and would ask employees to bring him to work.

…33. …a female employee asked McGowan for the day off after a trial and he agreed, provided that she bought a bottle of alcohol and he could come to her residence to drink it [Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, memo to Governor Kristi Noem, 2019.10.01].

The female employee is not named, but the female employee is the only source to step out from the accusing “some” and make the case individually:

34. The female employee was interviewed and stated that McGowan did give her the day off, she bought the bottle of alcohol, he came over for a few hours and made her feel uncomfortable at times, but then he left on a bicycle [Ravnsborg to Noem, 2019.10.01].

To every other charge of questionable conduct, Ravnsborg affords McGowan a response: McGowan told Ravnsborg’s investigator(s) that the “bar” messages were jokes; the requests for alcohol only came occasionally and late on Friday afternoons; and he never “asked anyone to drive him to work because he was inebriated but did say that he had gotten a ride to his vehicle because of drinking on the previous evening.” That’s half of a rebuttal tangled in three acknowledgments of unwise behavior.

So weakly rebutted, each of those unwise actions bolsters a pattern of behavior that makes more credible the fourth charge of inappropriate behavior: making a managerial response to an employee request contingent on the employee’s facilitation of the boss’s drinking problem and the employee’s invitation of the boss to her home for an apparently unchaperoned and lengthy social call. And in Ravnsborg’s report, McGowan offers no response to this ugly charge.

Forget SDCL 3-17-3 and the Governor’s legal authority to remove an elected official: if I tried imposing a quid pro quo like that on a female subordinate, my wife would remove me from the house.

Ravnsborg’s report gives no response from McGowan to that charge. McGowan gives not specifics to KELO-TV on that charge but offers this generic indictment of the whole report:

I have not received a copy of the report yet. I’m told it contains a lot of unnamed sources of vague information. I’m also told it contains several inaccurate claims without dates or specifics. Unfortunately, I was never given an opportunity to challenge any of these false claims. It’s difficult to prove a negative. Once I receive the report, I will review it and decide if it warrants any response [“New Report Details McGowan Snapchat Messages and Request to Drink Alcohol with Employees,” KELO-TV, 2019.10.09].

A quid pro quo with a subordinate involving hooch and a housecall? Yeah, that warrants a response.

Failing to get McGowan’s head on a legal platter, Governor Noem says she “will not be pursuing any further action at this time.” But her release of the Attorney General’s report may be all the action she needs to take. She makes life much harder for McGowan in the press, at work, and at the polls if he seeks reëlection as he promised when Noem announced this investigation.

I have darn little sympathy for drinking to excess. A prosecutor should know better than anyone else in town that alcohol, far from solving problems, only makes them worse. But you don’t have to be a Father Haire Prohibitionist to agree that bosses should not ask employees to (and I feel like I’m using unnecessarily gentle language here) trade social favors for work favors.

Again, none of the claims against McGowan are sourced or under oath. And we really shouldn’t take anything Jason Ravnsborg writes without a block of salt. But the report paints a pretty bad picture of McGowan, one which his own responses as reported so far don’t undo.


  1. grudznick 2019-10-09 20:15

    So to summarize Mr. H’s livid rant against the young Governor lady, and the insaner than most General Attorney we have, this McGowan fellow was inept and incompetent, but the fellows who elected him in the libbie bastion of Sioux Falls will just have to gut it all out.

    grudznick predicts it will drive the libbie hatred and intolerance of others even higher in the eastern portions of the better Dakota.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-09 21:28

    Grudz offers an incorrect summary on multiple levels.

    1. I am not livid.
    2. I did not rant.
    3. “Inept” and “incompetent” are not apt terms for the bad behavior alleged in the Ravnsborg memo. I don’t even address points 15–26, the memo points that might more directly address those new adjectives from Grudz.
    4. I say nothing about any voter having to gut anything out.
    5. I say nothing about Sioux Falls being a bastion of liberal voters… and if I had, I would say recent city, county, and Legislative elections in the SF metroplex suggest the contrary.
  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-09 21:29

    Now, everyone else, please ignore Grudz’s false start and feel free to comment on what I’ve actually written.

  4. Donald Pay 2019-10-09 22:11

    He’s got a booze problem. (So does a good chunk of the Legislature.)

    In my work life, coming to work drunk could get you fired, so 31. would be all my supervisors would have needed to axe me. Several people did get fired for this, but it was their second offense. Generally, employers will give you a chance to reform yourself or get treatment. At least he rode his bicycle to the appointment with the female employee, and asked for rides, rather than drive to work when hung over. Aside from acting creepy, like most drunks do, he’s not much different from 5 percent of the population.

    Most of the other behavior listed, if true, stems from that booze problem. I think he should be strongly warned to keep his drinking under control, or resign or be relieved of his duties. If he relapses, he’s got to recognize it and get help immediately. I like to give people with substance abuse problems second and third chances, except if they put others at risk or act overly creepy. He came right up to that line with the home visit.

    I wouldn’t vote for the guy, unless he straightens himself up.

    All of this, of course, assumes the veracity of the AG’s findings, which is not a thing you can assume.

  5. Debbo 2019-10-09 23:07

    IF, and yes, that’s an intentionally big IF, Ravsbutt got his report mostly correct, the SA ought to be censured by the state bar and perhaps temporarily suspended without pay for coercing that female employee. That must have been frightening for her.

    It would be worthwhile for the county to investigate the atmosphere in that office. Do the employees, female and male, feel safe? Do they feel pressured to join the SA in his drinking sprees? Do his drinking buddies get the best cases, raises, etc?

    I agree with Don that an addict deserves a 2nd or even 3rd chance, but they need to check up with the employees because they shouldn’t have to work under oppressive or abusive conditions either.

  6. Dana P 2019-10-10 10:42

    Yes, IF these allegations are true — man oh man, this guy should not be sitting in the DA’s chair. At all.

    Is this guy an alcoholic and is coupled with other issues? Yes, that appears to be the case. Is he someone that needs some help, and hopefully will get the help he needs? Yes.

    But I also don’t think it is ‘leadership’ to order an investigation, get said investigation wrapped up, call findings “unsettling” and move about with the business of the state. Calling this behavior “unsettling” yet leaving the guy sitting in the DA’s chair – is – um – a big ole wow. Is she holding back because she is worried about him coming back with some type of ‘disability’ lawsuit against the state, if he were removed? Or has she just sort of said, “make the report public and the voters can decide if they want to remove him or not”. boy I don’t know what the thinking is here.

    Hopefully, there are things going on behind the scenes that will get him the heck out of that office. He certainly isn’t serving the best interests of the Minnehaha taxpayers.

    It seems more ‘unsettling’ to leave this guy in the DA’s chair. If this report is accurate.

    I hope for Mr McGowan’s sake, that he starts getting the help he needs.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-10 12:49

    It’s interesting that we all appear to recognize that McGowan’s reported actions should warrant severe reprimand and counseling, if not immediate dismissal. Yet the only person who appears to have the authority to issue dismissal (Noem can’t legally order any other sanction, can she?) has decided not to act on the evidence of misconduct in office and instead is just subjecting the S.A. to bad publicity.

    Is Noem’s action here enough, or is she playing a political game and doing enough to mortally wound a Democrat without taking responsibility for doing the killing herself?

  8. Steve Pearson 2019-10-10 13:11

    Maybe she’s giving McGowan some grace? Not that you know what that is Cory.

  9. Steve Pearson 2019-10-10 13:15

    Just imagine this comment board if the individuals were flipped. AG McGown and State’s Attorney Ravnsborg. Each of you would be screaming to high heaven.

  10. mike from iowa 2019-10-10 15:18

    Steve Pearson 2019-10-10 at 13:11
    Maybe she’s giving McGowan some grace? Not that you know what that is Cory.

    Let’s see yer proof, Trollerina!

  11. cibvet 2019-10-10 15:37

    Cory shows grace ( kindness to the unworthy) by allowing steve pearson to troll DFP.

  12. grudznick 2019-10-10 15:48

    Clearly Ms. Noem is giving Mr. McGowan some grace. If she booted the lout all the libbies would be screaming foul. The reality, I bet if you asked The Realist, is they just scream no matter what.

    As to the young lady who had Mr. McGowan over for a whiskey visit, how do we know she didn’t initiate this encounter and entice him. Do we even know if this woman is hideous or not?

  13. Donald Pay 2019-10-10 16:05

    Well, Steve, I wouldn’t be switching my position. I’m an atheist, who grew up Lutheran. I find my atheist version to be more willing to give grace, though maybe that’s because I’m older now and have seen how fallible we all are. So, I believe in giving people “grace.” People make mistakes in life, even me.

    I think a reason not to act on it is there the AG didn’t give McGowan a chance to provide his side, or explain what he’s doing to correct whatever problems he has. He seems to have indicated before that he has/was/is taking care of his problem. To me it seems he realized he had a problem and he did the right things to address it, even before this “investigation.”

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-10 17:52

    Steve Pearson, you prove nothing by arguing hypotheticals. Stick with what’s actually happening.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-10 17:57

    Here’s something that’s actually happening: Aaron McGowan has issued what he says will be his final word on this matter. Like the comments attributed to him in the Ravnsborg report, this third-person final statement falls well short of the refutation that would give anyone confidence in keeping him on the job:

    “According to Minnehaha County State’s Attorney, Aaron McGowan, he wants to apologize to his family, colleagues, friends, and the public for allowing his personal struggles and medical issues to rise to the point where Law Enforcement was called upon to check on his well-being. Aaron is pleased that the distraction of his medical leave, a pending investigation, and months of circulating rumors is over. McGowan is working diligently and continues to be dedicated to his public service.

    “Aaron would like to thank his family, friends, colleagues, and members of the public for all of their thoughts and prayers over the last few months. It’s unfortunate that Aaron’s private medical issues and personal struggles were made public and it has been extremely harmful to Aaron and his family. Aaron had a difficult year with his mother losing her battle to cancer, in addition to his own personal medical issues. Aaron received a copy of the public report from the media and disagrees with several portions of the report, which are largely taken out of context or based upon unnamed sources of information

    “Finally, Aaron and his family would appreciate the respect of privacy so that they can begin to heal from the consequences of months of headlines and hurtful comments.

    “Aaron will not be doing any further interviews or commenting further on this matter. McGowan will continue his responsibilities to serve as the Minnehaha County State’s Attorney. Aaron would like to apologize to the Sioux Falls Police department for any unfounded insinuations of a cover-up. Aaron has the utmost respect for all of Law Enforcement and their dedicated public service. Aaron would further like to apologize to his staff for this distraction. Aaron is honored to work with such amazing and dedicated public servants. We are all human, we all make mistakes, and we all need assistance in our journey through life” [Bob Mercer, “McGowan Issues Statement,” KELO-TV, 2019.10.10].

    We all make mistakes, but we don’t all give a subordinate at work a day off on the condition that she buy us booze and invite us over to her house to sit around for a few hours drinking it.

  16. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-10-10 18:18

    One might hope that McGowan’s apparent descent into an alcoholic despair was prompted by the unfairness he faces every day in being required to prosecute people whose “crimes” are only regarded as crimes by the insane.

    And, regardless of what he says, it may have been.

  17. Steve Pearson 2019-10-11 09:31

    Crimes defined by the insane? WTF

    Nice deflection Cory but that’s not gonna fly. All of you would be screaming if it were flipped and you know it

  18. bearcreekbat 2019-10-11 12:36

    Two observations about Pearson’s argument about what might occur “if it were flipped:”

    (1) The argument sidesteps the question whether Noem did the right thing by attempting to redirect the inquiry to an unrelated hypothetical, a reoccuring conservative tactic typically used to avoid dealing with an issue straight on when lacking anything convincing to argue one way or the other on the merits; and

    (2) in this case, it appears Pearson’s goal offers no defense or justification for Noem’s actions. Instead, his comment appears to merely have a desire to demean people who he believes disagree with his Trumpist views in general by implying hypocrisy although, even if this were true, it has literally nothing to do with the merits of Noem’s decision.

  19. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-11 12:40

    It’s not a deflection, Steve. We do not know what we would be saying or doing in a hypothetical. That argument adds no real weight, any more than an argument that contends that if Hillary were President and had withheld foreign aid to pressure a foreign nation to dig up dirt on a Republican political rival, the Republican Senate would leap at the chance to convict and remove her from office. Hypotheticals are the lazy argument of people who prefer to debate the wishful fantasies they control rather than the real world as it presents itself. Your argument would have weight if you took the time to find examples of past instances where the hypocrisy you wishfully concoct actually happened.

    BCB is correct: the deflection is Steve’s. I only avoided a fake issue. Steve is avoiding a real issue.

  20. Dana P 2019-10-12 08:10

    Steve, if she was showing some ‘grace’, Ms Noem wouldn’t have handled this the way she did. She would have kept this investigation/report private.

    I think Cory is right. I think she is lobbing the grenade and running away as she listens to it explode behind her.

  21. mike from iowa 2019-10-12 08:57

    Steve’s deflection was more likely a ricochet off a hard noggin, his.

  22. Jenny 2019-10-12 11:44

    I hope all these ‘Christians’ are praying for McGowan to beat his alcohol addiction, especially the Noem family, since God means so much to them. Everyone has their battles to fight in this life. I was disappointed to read about McGowan and how he conducted himself but we can all look back with regret in how we could have done things differently.
    I hope that McGowan is getting the help he needs and has good support from his family and friends.

  23. Jenny 2019-10-12 12:01

    Since we are all in such a partisan fiesty atmosphere when it comes to politics in this country, I have to agree with Steve. The left would be pouncing on Ravnborg if he had had this problem. This is just the way it is with the polarized political sides these days. We need to fight the real issues instead of beating a man down with an alcohol problem, be it a man on either side of the political spectrum.

    But it IS the Pubs who are much more likely to cut money from going to mental health and alcohol and substance abuse programs. The Republicans believe that God will solve everyone’s problems with hope and prayers. Liberals know that it takes serious educated professionals to deal with alcohol andsubstance abuse.

  24. Jenny 2019-10-12 12:50

    No, you shouldn’t fire a person immediately unless he has a prior history of alcohol/substance abuse and other negative behavior that effected his work. I have had coworkers go on leave for alochol treatments and they came back to work just fine and have not been in relapse since. Alcoholism and Substance abuse are lifelong diseases, as much of a disease as depression, anxiety, hypertention or diabetes. So, do we fire everyone who has a disease that might potentially impact work performance? I wouldn’t, I would give him orders to check himself in for treatment. Firing someone on the spot for for drinking too much makes life more stressful and hard for that said person, and under that stress, the temptations for relapse get worse. Lifelong recovery without any relapses is what we hope for, but so much can go worong, because life can be incredibly hard. After giving the person a second or third chance after warnings, that employee would have to be let go, since nothing is working. If more money was spent to tackle these very very real serious diseases, we would be a better society, but in this country it is not important enough. Trillion dollar war budgets are more important

  25. Debbo 2019-10-12 14:48

    Really compassionate and wise comments, Jenny. ❤

  26. Robin Friday 2019-10-12 16:14

    JMHO– McGowan sounds like a man who has not yet fully realized or acknowledged the depth and breadth of his alcohol problem. He’s right about several things: I cannot imagine having a job as stressful and overwhelming as Mhaha State’s Attorney. It’s probable that he needs more in-court-on-the-floor trial deputies who can take some of the trial pressure off him.

    It sounds like his family and/or associates tried to get him help but they did not have an “interventionee” who was ready and able to cooperate. That’s unfortunate, more than unfortunate, it’s ruinous. I can only hope now that he’s getting the help he needs.

    I’m not meaning to blame McGowan, I hope he gets to keep his job and do well with it. But two months away from one’s job and spiraling downward is not a hopeful place for any county to have their chief law enforcement officer. So if pushing him out was on Noem’s agenda, I’m glad she didn’t get her way. Maybe her handing it to Ravnsberg was her way of washing her hands of it. Maybe seeing that he gets the help he needs should be part of the mandate.

    McG. has to step up to the plate and do his part.

    I wish him well.

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