The South Dakota Senate on Tuesday convicted Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg of twoCases stemming from a car crash in 2020 in which he killed a pedestrian, causing his automatic dismissal.
A vote is awaiting whether Ravnsborg should be banned from holding future office.
Ravnsborg told a 911 dispatcher on the night of the crash that he may have hit one or other large animals, and said he did not know he had hit someone – 55 -year -old Joseph Boever – until that he returned to the scene. next morning. Criminal investigators said they did not believe some of Ravnsborg’s statements.
The Republican -controlled Senate voted to convict Ravnsborg, a Republican, on two charges of impeachment against him: committing crimes causing the death of a person, and misconduct for misleading law enforcement and misconduct. abuse of power in his office.
Ravnsborg’s face showed little emotion as the vote on the first article of impeachment fell to the senator’s final vote and passed with the minimum required for conviction. He held his hand over his mouth as he did in most attempts, then wrote a note on a notepad on his lap.
Convictions require a two-thirds majority. Ravnsborg, who is in his first term, is the first officer to be impeachable and convicted in South Dakota history. Gov. Kristi Noem, who pushed for Ravnsborg’s impeachment, will add his replacement.
The impeachment votes closed a chapter that troubled state politics, challenging Noem against Ravnsborg and some of his own party who opposed his aggressive pursuit of his removal.
At the opening of the impeachment trial on Tuesday, prosecutors were driving a question that has hung over developments since.: Did Ravnsborg know he killed someone the night of the crash?
“He actually saw the man he hit moments later,” said Alexis Tracy, Clay County state attorney who led the prosecution.
Prosecutors also told senators Ravnsborg used his title “to set the tone and gain influence” after the crash, even though he was said to have made “false statements and outright lies” by investigators in the investigation. crash. The prosecution played a montage of audio clips of Ravnsborg referring to himself as attorney general.
As they questioned crash investigators, prosecution attorneys investigated Ravnsborg’s alleged misrepresentation after the crash, including that he never drove over the speed limit, that he reached out to Boever’s family to offer his condolences, and that he did not browse. his phone as he drove home.
The prosecution played a series of video clips during their concluding arguments that showed Ravnsborg’s account of his use of the telephone during interviews with criminal investigators. The attorney general initially directly denied that he used his phone while driving, but admitted that he looked at his phone a few minutes before the crash.
Ravnsborg maintained that he had done nothing wrong and offered the impeachment trial as an opportunity to clear himself. He solved the criminal case last year throughincluding making an illegal lane change and using a telephone while driving, and being found by a judge.
He appeared in the Senate chamber on Tuesday but did not testify. His defense attorney answered the senators’ questions.
The attorney general’s defense focused its arguments on the implications of impeachment during opening statements Tuesday, asking lawmakers to consider the implications of their decision on state government action. Ravnsborg tapped Ross Garber, a legal analyst and law professor at Tulane University who specializes in impeachment proceedings.
“This is undoing the will of the voters,” Garber told the Senate. “Make no mistake, that’s what you’re thinking of doing.”
Ravnsborg was driving home from a political fundraiser last Sept. night. 12, 2020, on a state highway in central South Dakota when his car was hit by “something,” according to aafter this. He later said it was a deer or some other animal.
Investigators identified what they thought were slips of Ravnsborg’s statements, as he said he turned around at the scene of the accident and “saw her” before quickly correcting himself and as: “I have not seen him.” And they argue that Boever’s face went through Ravnsborg’s windshield because his mirrors were found in the car.
“We’ve heard better lies from 5-year-olds,” Pennington County State Attorney Mark Vargo, who acts as an impeachment prosecutor, said in a statement in Ravnsborg.
Investigators determined that the attorney general passed Boever’s body and the flashlight Boever was carrying – still lit the next morning – as he looked around at the scene the night of the crash.
Ravnsborg said he or the county sheriff who came to the scene was unaware that Boever’s body was protruding just feet from the highway shoulder cement.
“There’s no way you can get through without seeing that,” Arnie Rummel, an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation who led the criminal investigation, said in testimony Tuesday.
Rummel added that Ravnsborg hardly acts like someone who has been hit by one – a common occurrence on South Dakota’s highways.
Prosecutors also filed Ravnsborg’s exchange with one of his staff three days after the crash, after he handed his phones to crash investigators. Ravnsborg asked an agent of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation about what would happen during the forensic examination of his cellphones, even if the agency should have been neutral in the investigation to avoid conflicts of interest. .
“We weren’t supposed to be involved,” the now retired agent, Brent Gromer, said as he described why the exchange made him uncomfortable.
Ravnsborg’s defense attorney argued that the attorney general had done nothing wrong and was instead fully cooperating with the crash investigation. His defense attorney, Mike Butler, described any differences in Ravnsborg’s memory that night as a result of human error.
Butler dismissed the testimony from Rummel, the crash investigator, as an “opinion” not to remain in the court of law.
Ravnsborg was willing to take a polygraph test, even though criminal investigators determined that the attorney general’s authenticity test would not have been effective.
During concluding arguments, Butler stated that the criminal prosecution found “no criminal guilt” in Boever’s death and urged senators to avoid reconsidering that case.
“There’s no amount of fire and sulfur changing given that fact,” he said.
Noem called on Ravnsborg to resign immediately after the crash and later forced lawmakers to continue the impeachment. Noem also publicly endorsed Ravnsborg’s successor, Republican Marty Jackley, for election as his successor.
Ravnsborg argued that the governor, who is positioning himself for a possible 2024 White House bid, pushed for his removal in part because he was investigating ethics complaints against Noem.
Ravnsborg in September agreed to an undisclosed settlement of Boever’s widow.