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Marty Jackley nominated 14 to committee tasked with hiring next DCI director. Who are they?

The committee is made up of current and former sheriffs, deputies, state’s attorneys and directors of the DCI.

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PIERRE — A panel of 14 current and former law enforcement and legal professionals will be tasked with selecting the next director of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

Marty Jackley, who became the lone candidate for the South Dakota Attorney General after the state’s Democratic Party failed to nominate a candidate, announced Wednesday the nomination of over a dozen members to serve on a committee to assist in the selection of the next director of the DCI.

The highest form of law enforcement in the state, the DCI is tasked with investigating crime across South Dakota, including investigations involving law enforcement officers. Most notably, the DCI is the agency tasked with investigating officer-involved shootings in the state, which, this year, are occurring at a never-before-seen frequency.

“I have often relied upon these individuals for their sound advice on law enforcement issues, and I appreciate their willingness to now assist in recruiting and recommending top candidates for our consideration,” Jackley said in a statement. “Their task is simple — go find the best candidates to lead the Division of Criminal Investigation that will work with other law enforcement agencies to best protect our communities.”

Who are the committee members?

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Jim Vlahakis

Yankton County Sheriff Jim Vlahakis, chairman
A 42-year law enforcement veteran, Jim Vlahakis has served as the Yankton County Sheriff since 2010, running unopposed in elections in 2014 and 2018. In January, Vlahakis announced he would not seek re-election and would be retiring at the conclusion of his term. Before becoming sheriff, he served as the director of the DCI for two years, from 2006 to 2008.

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Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead 
Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum likes to joke that Mike Milstead has served in law enforcement longer than Thum has been alive. With nearly five decades of experience, Milstead spent just shy of 25 years with the Sioux Falls Police Department, ranking as high as lieutenant, before becoming sheriff of Minnehaha County in 1997. This year’s election will mark the sixth time Milstead has run unopposed for sheriff.

Attorney General Mark Vargo

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Prosecutor Mark Vargo presents an opening argument during the Ravnborg impeachment trial on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Appointed as Attorney General by Gov. Kristi Noem in June, Mark Vargo served as lead prosecutor in the historic impeachment trial against former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, helping build the case that resulted in the first-ever conviction of an impeached constitutional officer in South Dakota. Before his appointment, Vargo served as Pennington County State’s Attorney, a position of which he is currently on a leave of absence.

Former Attorney General Mark Barnett
Mark Barnett served as South Dakota’s attorney general between 1991-2003. After being beat out by Mike Rounds in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, he was appointed in 2007 by then-Gov. Rounds to serve as a circuit judge. He held that position until his retirement in March 2019.

Assistant Director of the DCI Brian Zeeb
Brian Zeeb served as a director of the DCI from 2018 to 2019. According to his LinkedIn, he currently serves as the assistant director of the division under Chad Mosteller, who was tabbed by Vargo in July.

Clay County State’s Attorney Alexis Tracy

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Alexis Tracy delivers an argument during Ravnsborg's impeachment trial at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Working alongside Vargo, Alexis Tracy served as an assistant prosecutor in the impeachment trial against Ravnsborg. For the past five years, Tracy has served as the Clay County State’s Attorney, a position she moved to after spending six years as a deputy state’s attorney in Union County and one year in a similar position in Turner County.

Meade County Sheriff-elect Pat West
Kicking off his law enforcement career with three years as a local police officer and deputy the Black Hills, Pat West nearly 22 years as a supervisory special agent with the DCI, also serving as the former West River DCI agent-in-charge. According to his LinkedIn, West was promoted to Special Assistant Attorney General in 2017. He recently won the election to serve as Meade County’s next sheriff.

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State FOP President Mike Walsh
Mike Walsh served over two decades with the Minnehaha Sheriff’s Office, ranking as high as captain. He also currently serves as the president of South Dakota’s Fraternal Order of Police, a state branch of the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers.

National FOP Trustee Tony Harrison
After roughly 26 years in law enforcement, Tony Harrison retired Friday, Aug. 19, from his position as a captain with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. He also currently serves as South Dakota’s National Trustee to the Fraternal Order of Police, which is the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Swenson

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Steve Swenson

A 30-year law enforcement veteran, Steve Swenson spent most of his career with the South Dakota Highway Patrol, ranking as high as sergeant. In 2018, he ran for Lincoln County Sheriff, a position he’s held since.

Brookings County State’s Attorney Dan Nelson
Dan Nelson has served as Brooking County State’s Attorney since he won a special election in 2018. After falling to Abigail Howard in the 2016 election, Nelson served for a time as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of South Dakota.

Others named to the committee include Pennington County Sheriff-elect Brian Mueller, former DCI Director Doug Lake and former Watertown Police Chief Jo Vitek.

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A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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