South Dakota impeachment trial to investigate fatal AG crash

South Dakota impeachment trial to investigate fatal AG crash

South Dakota Attorney General Impeachment Explainer (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

South Dakota Attorney General Impeachment Explainer (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

South Dakota senators begin Tuesday hearing evidence of the impeachment of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, whose report of a fatal 2020 traffic accident has led criminal investigators, some lawmakers and the victim’s family to question its veracity.

Ravnsborg, a Republican who recently announced he would not seek a second term, faces two charges in the state’s first impeachment trial, with conviction of either one prompting immediate removal from office. Senators can also vote on whether Ravnsborg should be barred from holding future office.

Either way, the result will close a chapter that has shaken state politics, pitting Governor Kristi Noem against Ravnsborg and some in her own party who opposed the aggressive pursuit of his removal.

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 hit “something,” according to a transcript of his account. call 911 later. He later said it could have been a deer or another animal.

Ravnsborg said neither he nor the county sheriff who came to the scene knew he had shot and killed a man – Joseph Boever, 55 – until Ravnsborg returned to the scene the next morning.

Investigators said they doubt some of Ravnsborg’s statements. In previous depositions to lawmakers, they said they determined that the attorney general passed by Boever’s body and the flashlight Boever was carrying — still lit the next morning — as he looked around the scene on the night of the accident.

They also identified what they thought were minor slip-ups in Ravnsborg’s statements, such as when he said he turned around at the crash site and “saw him” before quickly correcting himself and saying, “I didn’t see him.” And they suggested that Boever’s face had gone through Ravnsborg’s windshield because his glasses were found in the car.

Ravnsborg maintained that he did nothing wrong and cast the impeachment trial as a chance to exonerate himself. He settled the criminal case last year by not contesting two traffic offenses, including making an illegal lane change and using a phone while driving, and was fined by a judge.

The Republican-controlled Senate will hear impeachment prosecutors, defense attorneys, accident investigators and former Ravnsborg staff members.

It will take 24 senators, or two-thirds of the body’s 35 members, to convict Ravnsborg of either of the two articles of impeachment: committing a crime that caused death and misconduct.

The latter alleges that he misled investigators and abused the power of his office. Investigators said Ravnsborg asked an agent from the state’s Criminal Investigation Division about what accident investigators could find on his cell phone. He said he was simply seeking factual information.

Noem urged Ravnsborg to resign shortly after the accident and then lobbied lawmakers to seek impeachment. Noem also publicly endorsed Ravnsborg’s predecessor, Republican Marty Jackley, for election as his replacement. If Ravnsborg is forced out, the governor will nominate an interim to fill the post until the new attorney general elected in November is sworn in.

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

Ravnsborg in September agreed to an undisclosed settlement with Boever’s widow.

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