South Dakota’s Republican-controlled Senate voted to convict state attorney general of committing crimes that caused someone’s death, and malfeasance for misleading law enforcement and abusing the powers of his office
AG Jason Ravnsborg was thrown out of office Tuesday as Senate in 33-0 vote determined he lied about a September 2020 car crash that killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever
Ravnsborg, 46, was impeached and convicted on Tuesday for the fatal car crash which happened on Sept. 12, 2020
The AG told 911 operators he thought he hit a large animal or a deer – a common occurrence in South Dakota – a line he repeated to investigators
Prosecutors said they questioned Ravnsborg’s testimony about whether or not he knew he hit Boever and if he was on his phone
Borrowing a car from Sheriff Mike Volek, Ravnsborg left the scene and claims he only discovered the body the next morning on his way to return the car to Volek
Boever was walking along a highway near the small city of Highmore when he was hit
Leading to the crash Ravnsborg who was elected attorney general in 2018, had received six traffic tickets for speeding in South Dakota over the preceding six years.
He becomes the first official to be impeached in South Dakota history
South Dakota State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was removed from office and convicted of two impeachment charges stemming from a 2020 car crash in which he killed a pedestrian.
Ravnsborg, 46, a Republican, told a 911 dispatcher the night of the September 2020 crash that he might have struck a deer or other large animal. He told investigators that he didn’t know he struck 55-year-old Joseph Boever near Highmore until he returned to the scene the next morning.
Criminal investigators said they didn’t believe some of Ravnsborg’s statements.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted to convict Ravnsborg of committing crimes that caused someone’s death, and malfeasance for misleading law enforcement and abusing the powers of his office.
Ravnsborg’s face showed little emotion as the vote on the first article of impeachment went down to the final senator’s vote and passed with the minimum needed for conviction.
During the first vote, he he was convicted by the state senate 24-9, however, that changed during the second vote to 31-2, according to KELO.
On the third and fourth vote, it was 33-0.
He held his hand over his mouth as he had for much of the trial, then wrote a note on a notepad in his lap.
The convictions required a two-thirds majority. Ravnsborg, who was in his first term, is the first official to be impeached and convicted in South Dakota history.
Jason Ravnsborg, 46, appeared emotionless at the impeachment trial on Tuesday. He was the first official in South Dakota to ever being impeached. His impeachment comes after he fatally struck a pedestrian, 55-year-old Joseph Boever, in September 2020 as he was walking on a highway near Highmore. Governor Kristi Noem, a fellow Republican, who pushed for Ravnsborg’s impeachment in the immediate aftermath will appoint his replacement.
The impeachment votes close a chapter that has dogged state politics, pitting Gov. Noem against AG Ravnsborg and some in their party who objected to her aggressive pursuit of his removal.
She had originally slammed the Special Committee’s decision not to impeach the AG in March.
She said: ‘Jason Ravnsborg killed a man, lied to investigators about the events of that night, and attempted to cover it up,’ Noem said. ‘Joseph Boever’s family deserves justice.’
Talk of Ravnsborg’s impeachment began in February after Noem released the video of the AG stumbling through an interview with investigators. He was charged with three misdemeanors, pleading no contest to two counts of reckless driving. He paid two $500 fines and $3,000 in court fees. He also had to take part in a district driving education.
On Tuesday, she tweeted: ‘After nearly two years, the dark cloud over the Attorney General’s office has been lifted. It is now time to move on and begin to restore confidence in the office.’
As the impeachment trial opened Tuesday, prosecutors drove at a question that has hung over developments since the September 2020 crash: Did Ravnsborg know he killed a man the night of the crash?
‘He absolutely saw the man that he struck in the moments after,’ said Alexis Tracy, the Clay County state’s attorney who is leading the prosecution.
Prosecutors also told senators that Ravnsborg had used his title ‘to set the tone and gain influence’ in the aftermath of the crash, even as he allegedly made ‘misstatements and outright lies’ to the crash investigators. The prosecution played a montage of audio clips of Ravnsborg referring to himself as the attorney general.
Investigators at the scene noted that the front end of Ravnsborg’s car had significant damage where Boever’s body was.
He claimed he thought he hit a deer or large animal, but Boever’s glasses were found inside the car afterward
Furthermore, tire marks from his vehicle were seen off the roadway where Joseph Boever was struck. Prosecutors questioned Ravnsborg about his phone usage, having found that it had been in use a minute before the crash but not during impact.
The investigation centered around Ravnsborg’s testimony about knowing if he had hit a person rather than a deer as he’d claimed.
As they questioned crash investigators, prosecuting attorneys probed Ravnsborg’s alleged misstatements during the aftermath of the crash, including that he never drove excessively over the speed limit, that he had reached out to Boever’s family to offer his condolence, and that he had not been browsing his phone during his drive home.
The prosecution played a series of video clips during their closing arguments that showed Ravnsborg’s shifting account of his phone use during interviews with criminal investigators. The attorney general at first outright denied he had been using his phone while driving, but then acknowledged he had been looking at his phone minutes before the crash.
Phone records showed it was locked at the moment of impact. Ravnsborg told investigators that the last thing he remembered before impact was turning off the radio and looking at his speedometer.
Ravnsborg has maintained that he did nothing wrong and cast the impeachment trial as a chance to clear himself.
He resolved the criminal case last year by pleading no contest to a pair of traffic misdemeanors, including making an illegal lane change and using a phone while driving, and was fined by a judge.
Leading to the crash Ravnsborg a Republican who was elected attorney general in 2018, Ravnsborg had received six traffic tickets for speeding in South Dakota over the preceding six years.
He’d also received tickets for a seat belt violation and for driving a vehicle without a proper exhaust and muffler system.
Ravnsborg appeared in the Senate chamber Tuesday but did not testify. His defense attorney answered senators’ questions.
The attorney general’s defense focused its arguments on the implications of impeachment during opening statements Tuesday, imploring lawmakers to consider the implications of their decision on the function of state government. 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 considering doing.’
Ravnsborg was driving home from a political fundraiser after dark on September 12, 2020, on a state highway in central South Dakota when his car struck ‘something,’ according to a transcript of his 911 call afterward. He later said it might have been a deer or other animal.
Investigators identified what they thought were slips in Ravnsborg’s statements, such as when he said he turned around at the accident scene and ‘saw him’ before quickly correcting himself and saying: ‘I didn’t see him.’ And they contended that Boever’s face had come through Ravnsborg’s windshield because his glasses were found in the car.
‘We’ve heard better lies from five-year-olds,’ Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo, who was acting as an impeachment prosecutor, said of Ravnsborg’s statement. Investigators had determined the attorney general walked right past Boever’s body and the flashlight Boever had been carrying – still illuminated the next morning – as he looked around the scene the night of the crash.
Ravnsborg said neither he nor the county sheriff who came to the scene knew that Boever’s body was lying just feet from the pavement on the highway shoulder.
‘There isn’t any way you can go by without seeing that,’ Arnie Rummel, an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation who led the criminal probe, said in testimony Tuesday.
Rummel added that Ravnsborg had hardly behaved like someone who had hit a deer – a common occurrence on the highways of South Dakota.
Prosecutors also raised an exchange that Ravnsborg had with one of his staff members three days following the crash, after he had submitted his phones to crash investigators. Ravnsborg questioned an agent in the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation about what would turn up during forensic exams of his cellphones, even though the agency was supposed to have no part in the investigation to avoid conflicts of interest.
‘We were not supposed to be involved,’ the now-retired agent, Brent Gromer, said as he described why the exchange made him uncomfortable.
Ravnsborg’s defense attorney contended that the attorney general had done nothing nefarious and instead had cooperated fully with the crash investigation. His defense attorney, Mike Butler, described any discrepancies in Ravnsborg’s memory of that night as owing to human error.
Butler disparaged the testimony from Rummel, the crash investigator, as ‘opinion’ that would not hold up in a court of law.
Ravnsborg was willing to take a polygraph test, though criminal investigators determined that it would not have been effective to test the attorney general’s truthfulness.
During closing arguments, Butler stated that the criminal prosecution found ‘no criminal culpability’ for Boever’s death and urged senators to refrain from rehashing that case.
‘No amount of fire and brimstone changes that given fact,’ he said.
Noem called for Ravnsborg to resign soon after the crash and later pressed lawmakers to pursue impeachment. Going further, the governor publicly endorsed the candidacy of Ravnsborg’s predecessor, Marty Jackley, for election as his replacement.
Ravnsborg claims has argued that the governor pushed for his removal in part because he had investigated ethics complaints against her. Back in September Ravnsborg reached an undisclosed settlement with Boever’s widow, who was seen crying in court Tuesday.