South Dakota Lawmakers Impeach Attorney General Involved in Fatal Crash

The South Dakota House of Representatives voted Tuesday to impeach state Attorney General Jason R. Ravnsborg, who fatally struck a man with his car in 2020.

The impeachment vote, which divided Republicans who dominate South Dakota politics, suspended Ravnsborg from official duties while he awaits a state Senate trial that could result in his permanent removal from office.

“I think impeachment should be reserved for only serious and rare circumstances, and I think this is one,” state Rep. Will Mortenson, a Republican, said Tuesday on the House floor.

Mr. Ravnsborg, a first-term Republican, called 911 in September 2020 to report that he had hit something, possibly a deer, with his car while traveling on a country road at night. The next day, when Mr. Ravnsborg and others inspected the crash scene, they saw that the car had struck 55-year-old Joe Boever who was walking on the side of the road near Highmore, South Dakota.

Mr. Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges related to the accident. He did not serve time in jail. Prosecutors who testified before a legislative committee this year said they had no evidence to support more serious charges. That legislative committee recommended against impeachment last month, but left the final decision to the full House, which voted 36-31 to impeach him.

Craig Price, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, told lawmakers he believed Mr. Ravnsborg should have been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Mr. Ravnsborg, who had said little publicly about the case, released a letter the day before the impeachment vote, saying he “could not resign at the time and cannot resign now because the incident did not impede my ability to perform.” the functions” of lawyer. general. He accused Gov. Kristi Noem, a fellow Republican who repeatedly called on him to resign, of seizing on the “unfortunate circumstances of a man being killed in a car accident to make her political moves.”

Ms. Noem responded, calling the attorney general’s letter strange and accusing him of lying about the events of the accident. Investigators had focused on whether Ravnsborg knew on the night of the accident that he was a person he had hit or whether, as he claimed, he did not find out until the next day.

“The Attorney General wants to do this about me, to distract House members, when the question before them is whether he should be the top law enforcement officer in the state,” Noem said on Twitter before the vote. political trial. “He killed an innocent man, lied about the events of that night and abused his position to cover it up.”

After Ravnsborg was charged, Noem said lawmakers “did the right thing for the people of South Dakota and for the family of Joe Boever.”

Attempts to contact Mr. Ravnsborg after the vote were not immediately successful. The chief of staff for the South Dakota attorney general’s office referred requests for comment to an outside spokesman for Ravnsborg, who did not immediately respond to a message.

For Mr. Ravnsborg to be convicted by the state Senate and possibly removed from office, two-thirds of senators would have to vote to convict him. The state constitution requires that Mr. Ravnsborg receive the documents at least 20 days before the Senate trial begins, meaning those proceedings cannot take place until May.

Jacey Fortin contributed report.

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