The South Dakota House on Tuesday impeached the state’s attorney general for his conduct surrounding a 2020 fatal car crash, rejecting the recommendation of a special investigative committee and setting up a historic trial in the Senate.
Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will at least temporarily be removed from office pending the Senate trial, where it takes a two-thirds majority to convict on impeachment charges.
The 36-31 vote in the Republican-controlled House broke from a GOP-backed majority report from a special investigative committee that recommended against impeachment. That report argued Ravnsborg’s actions in the crash were unrelated to his official duties.
Ravnsborg pleaded no contest last year to a pair of traffic misdemeanors in the crash, including making an illegal lane change. He cast Joseph Boever’s death as a tragic accident.
Gov. Kristi Noem, also a Republican, had pushed for impeachment, arguing that he lied to investigators. So had Democrats, who produced a minority report that argued Ravnsborg was not “forthcoming” to law enforcement officers and had abused the power of his office.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg sent lawmakers a pair of defiant letters urging them to vote against impeaching him for his conduct before and after he struck and killed a pedestrian on the shoulder of a highway.
Troopers have said Ravnsborg was distracted before the September 2020 crash that killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever. Ravnsborg initially told authorities he thought he had struck a deer or other large animal. He went back the next day and found Boever's body.
The House is scheduled to gavel in Tuesday morning to discuss whether they should follow a recommendation by a House investigation committee to vote against impeachment. Ravnsborg has said very little publicly about the incident.
“In a few hours, your vote will set a precedent for years to come,” Ravnsborg said in the first of two letters sent Monday night and obtained by the Argus Leader. “No state has ever impeached an elected official for a traffic accident.”
The letter also accused Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of interfering in the investigation and of supporting impeachment because of the attorney general's investigations into her behavior. A second letter from Ravnsborg’s spokesman delved into “evidence, allegations and misconceptions,” about the case.
Opponents of impeachment say Ravnsborg need not be held accountable by the House because he wasn't on the job when the crash happened. He had been driving back from a Republican fundraiser.
Ravnsborg has cast Boever’s death as a tragic accident. He pleaded no contest last year to a pair of traffic misdemeanors, including making an illegal lane change.
An investigation committee from the Republican-controlled House voted against recommending impeachment after arguments that Ravnsborg's actions were not part of his official duties. Noem has pushed for impeachment, saying Ravnsborg lied to investigators.
The Highway Patrol concluded that Ravnsborg’s car crossed completely onto the highway shoulder before hitting Boever, and criminal investigators said later that they didn’t believe some of Ravnsborg’s statements.
Republican Rep. Will Mortenson, of Pierre, brought articles of impeachment against Ravnsborg more than a year ago. He did not return phone messages left Monday by The Associated Press.
Last week, at the request of Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin, of Rapid City, about 30 lawmakers took in a presentation by two Highway Patrol troopers outlining details of the investigation.
Goodwin said it raised doubts about the committee's recommendation. House Speaker Spencer Gosch, who chaired the committee, called it a sales pitch. Gosch did not respond to phone messages Monday.
While it's unclear whether the presentation would have any effect on the impeachment vote, Noem's spokesman referenced it Monday to sum up the feelings in the governor's office.
“The troopers' presentation speaks better than I ever could,” Ian Fury said.
Democrat House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, a member of the impeachment investigation committee, said the troopers helped with unanswered questions, but he doesn't believe they will change any minds. He expects Tuesday's floor debate to last a couple of hours before the vote.
“As a member of the committee, I said I believed there were grounds for impeachment and I will stay with that,” Smith said.
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