South Dakota House nears AG impeachment decision

A South Dakota House committee is set to conclude its work this week. It will investigate whether the attorney general of the state should be impeached over his conduct in relation to a fatal 2020 car accident. This follows a lengthy investigation that split the Republicans.

South Dakota House nears AG impeachment decision

Late Monday, the House Select Committee on Investigation will issue its final report. This report will contain parts of the crash investigation not redacted by the committee. The House Select Committee on Investigation will also debate whether to recommend Attorney-General Jason Ravnsborg's impeachment.

The report and any recommendations will evaluate the conduct of the top state law enforcement officer. This will set the tone for House legislators as they prepare to vote on the impeachment.

An overview of the impeachment investigation

RAVNSBORG IS IMPRESSED - WHY?

Ravnsborg killed a pedestrian near a rural highway in September 2020. The nighttime collision was initially described by Ravnsborg as an accident with an animal. However, he later claimed that he didn't realize that he had killed Joseph Boever, 55 years old, until he returned to this scene the next morning and found his body.

The impeachment committee was told by criminal investigators that Ravnsborg was inconsistent in his recounting of the crash. They also said that they didn't trust his account and that he might have known that he had hit a man. Prosecutors denied that they could prove this.

Ravnsborg pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanors. One was for an illegal lane change, and the other for using a cellphone while driving. This happened about a minute prior to the crash.

HOW DID THE INVESTIGATION DISTINCT REPUBLICANS

Gov. Kristi Noem has worked hard to get her fellow Republican out of office. She said last year that she was "outraged” at the outcome of the charges, and suggested that Ravnsborg could be impeached.

She stated in January that "the public deserves the truth" and that this family, this poor family, deserves some justice.

In a letter to the committee, Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price , one of the governor's top officers, argued for impeachment. He said Ravnsborg was distracted at the time of the crash, that criminal investigators did not believe his account and that the attorney general had consulted with a digital expert in his office before turning over his phone to investigators.

Price also made new allegations. He cited "disparaging" and "offensive" text messages that Ravnsborg and his top aides exchanged about state officials. Price also claimed that Ravnsborg was pulled over eight times for traffic offenses in the 18-month period between his election and the fatal accident. Five of these were when he displayed a badge or identified himself as the attorney General.

However, Noem's pressure campaign has upset lawmakers on the committee, who consider it intrusive.

Noem could name Ravnsborg's replacement if he was removed from office. Ravnsborg has since fallen out with Noem after the crash and has submitted two ethics complaints against Noem at the state's Government Accountability Board.

Lawmakers suggested that Noem improperly interfered with the investigation by publicly disclosing parts of it, including video of Ravnsborg being questioned by criminal investigators.

Spencer Gosch, House Speaker and Republican leader of the impeachment panel, stated that the final report would contain details about Noem's attempts to "influence the investigation".

The Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions sponsored billboards accusing four Republicans of being in cover for Noem's attorney general. Although Noem denied any involvement in the incident, some lawmakers said that they believe her.

RAVNSBORG VOTE ON IMPEACHMENT

It's almost certain. It's unclear how much momentum will there be for impeachment. This requires a simple majority when the House convenes April 12.

The committee's recommendation of impeachment would be a boost to those who are pushing for Ravnsborg’s ouster.

Even if the committee does not recommend action, it is likely that there will be another push to impeach him. Republican Rep. Will Mortenson introduced articles of impeachment last spring. He said that his argument has been only supported by testimony from law enforcement officers involved in investigating the crash.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

If Ravnsborg is impeached by the House, he would be removed at most temporarily.

A state constitution requires that an impeached official must take a leave of absence from their duties while the Senate impeachment trial takes place. Between the time the official is impeached, and the beginning of the trial, it takes at least 20 days. To convict the attorney general and remove him permanently from office, it would require a majority of two-thirds of senators.

Ravnsborg has a difficult political future. Marty Jackley, his GOP predecessor, announced that he would be seeking to succeed him.

Jackley is supported by Noem, the most powerful elected official in the state.


 

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