South Dakota AG convicted on 2 charges of impeachment, removed

PIERRE, SD (AP) — The South Dakota Senate on Tuesday convicted Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on two charges of impeachment following a fatal crash in 2020, removing him and disqualifying him from his future office in a caustic reprimand that showed that most senators did not believe his account of the crash.

Ravnsborg, a first-time Republican who only recently announced he would not stand for re-election, showed little emotion when senators first convicted him of committing a crime that caused someone’s death. They then handed down another guilty verdict on a felony charge alleging he misled investigators and abused his office.

Ravnsborg told a 911 dispatcher the night of the crash that he may have hit a deer or other large animal and said he didn’t know he hit a man — 55-year-old Joseph Boever — until he returned to the place of the accident. morning. Detectives said they did not believe some of Ravnsborg’s statements, and several senators made it clear that they did not believe them either.

“There’s no question that this was a lie,” said Senator Lee Schoenbeck, the chamber’s highest-ranking Republican. “This person ran over an innocent South Dakotan.”

Schoenbeck also criticized Ravnsborg for refusing to testify in his own defence, saying Ravnsborg should have told “what the hell he was doing the night of the crash.”

“There’s a microphone there, and that’s a damn short walk,” Schoenbeck said.

The convictions required a two-thirds majority in the Senate, with Republicans controlled 32-3. Senators gathered the bare minimum of 24 votes to convict Ravnsborg on the first charge, with some senators saying the two crimes he pleaded guilty to were not serious enough to warrant impeachment. The felony charge — Ravnsborg also asked investigators what data could be found on his cellphone, among other things — went through with 31 votes.

The votes to bar Ravnsborg from his future position were unanimous on both counts.

Ravnsborg’s face showed little emotion during the voting. He covered his mouth as he had for much of the process, then wrote on a notepad in his lap. He didn’t answer questions from reporters as he left the Capitol.

Ravnsborg agreed to a secret settlement with Boever’s widow.

Nick Nemec, Boever’s nephew who has been a constant advocate for a harsh sentence for Ravnsborg, said the votes were “justification”.

“It’s just a relief. It’s been almost two years now since it had drugs in it and it just feels like a weight off my shoulders,” he said.

Ravnsborg is the first official to be impeached and convicted in South Dakota history.

Governor Kristi Noem, who will choose Ravnsborg’s replacement until the candidate chosen to replace him in November is sworn in, called on her fellow Republican to resign shortly after the crash and later urged lawmakers to pursue impeachment. As the saga continued, Noem publicly supported Ravnsborg’s predecessor, Republican Marty Jackley, for election as his replacement.

The governor celebrated the condemnation of the impeachment proceedings on Twitter, saying it had lifted “the dark cloud over the attorney general’s office.”

“It is now time to move on and restore confidence in the office,” she said, but gave no indication as to who she will choose for the interim position.

Ravnsborg has argued that the governor, who has positioned himself for a possible bid for the White House in 2024, pushed for his removal, in part because he had investigated ethical complaints against Noem.

As the impeachment trial kicked off Tuesday, prosecutors grappled with a question that has loomed over their heads since the September 2020 collision: Did Ravnsborg know he had killed a man on the night of the crash?

“He absolutely saw the man he hit in the moments after,” said Alexis Tracy, the Clay County prosecutor who led the prosecution.

Prosecutors also told senators that Ravnsborg had used his title “to set the tone and gain influence” in the wake of the crash, while allegedly voicing “deviations and outright lies” to the crash investigators. The prosecution played a montage of audio clips of Ravnsborg calling himself the Attorney General.

Prosecutors were investigating Ravnsborg’s alleged misrepresentations in the aftermath of the crash, including that he never exaggerated the speed limit, that he contacted Boever’s family to express his condolences, and that he did not hit the road on his drive home. his phone had flipped .

The prosecution played a series of video clips during their closing speeches showing Ravnsborg’s varying accounts of his phone use during interviews with detectives. The attorney general initially flatly denied using his phone while driving, but then admitted to looking at his phone minutes before the accident. When it came time for senators to speak, several noted a reconstruction of an accident that found Ravnsborg’s car had completely drifted out of its lane, contrary to his initial statement that he was in the middle of the road at the time of the collision. stood away.

Ravnsborg solved the criminal case last year by advocating no contest against a few traffic violations, including illegally changing lanes and using a phone while driving, and was fined by a judge.

The attorney general’s defense asked the senators to consider the implications of impeachment for the function of the state government. Ross Garber, a legal analyst and law professor at Tulane University who specializes in impeachment proceedings, told senators an impeachment would “undo the will of voters.”

Ravnsborg drove home after dark on September 12, 2020 from a political fundraiser on a state highway in downtown South Dakota when his car hit “something”, according to a transcript of his 911 call afterward† He told the dispatcher it might be a deer or some other animal.

Investigators identified what they thought were slips in Ravnsborg’s statements, such as when he said he turned around at the accident site and “saw” him before quickly correcting himself and saying, “I didn’t see him.” And they claimed that Boever’s face had come through Ravnsborg’s windshield because his glasses had been found in the car.

“We’ve heard better lies from 5-year-olds,” Pennington County Attorney Mark Vargo, who was serving as the impeachment prosecutor, said of Ravnsborg’s statement.

Researchers had determined the Attorney General walked right past Boever’s body and the flashlight Boever was carrying—still lit the next morning—while looking around the night of the crash.

ravnsborg said: neither he nor the sheriff who arrived at the scene knew… that Boever’s body was only a few feet from the sidewalk on the highway verge.

“There’s no way to pass without seeing that,” Arnie Rummel, an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation who led the criminal investigation, said in testimony Tuesday.

Prosecutors also reported an exchange Ravnsborg had with one of his associates three days after the crash, after he turned over his phones to crash investigators. Ravnsborg questioned an agent with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation about what would turn up during forensic examinations of his cell phones, although the agency was expected to play no part in the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.

“We weren’t supposed to be involved,” said the now-retired agent, Brent Gromer, describing why the exchange made him uncomfortable.

Ravnsborg’s lawyer claimed that the attorney general had done nothing disgraceful. His attorney, Mike Butler, described any discrepancies in Ravnsborg’s memory of that night as being due to human error, and despised testimony from Rummel, the crash investigator, as an “opinion” that would not hold up in court.

During closing arguments, Butler stated that the criminal charges found “no criminal fault” for Boever’s death and urged the senators not to rehearse the case.

“No amount of fire and brimstone changes that given fact,” he said.

sen. Arthur Rusch, a retired judge who said he met Ravnsborg when he was a young lawyer working on Rusch’s court, was among the senators who did not support the first charge, but supported the second. He said he was resentful of Ravnsborg’s actions in questioning Criminal Division agents about aspects of the case and issuing a press release about the attorney general’s office supplies.

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