South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has been impeached.
The South Dakota House of Representatives for the first time in statehood adopted articles of impeachment for a constitutional office holder Tuesday, condemning the 45-year-old Republican for his conduct related to a 2020 crash that killed a pedestrian.
The 36-31 vote challenges a recommendation issued March 28 by a special investigative committee of lawmakers, who deemed Ravnsborg’s actions did not amount to impeachable offenses, and triggers a trial in the Senate that will decide whether Ravnsborg will be forced out of office.
“We were happy and for this man to come along take it away… this is just inexcusable,” Joseph Boever’s widow, Jennifer, told reporters moments after the House moved forward with the impeachment of the attorney general. “I’m glad that we got the vote here and now we just need the Senate’s help on this.”
‘His attention was not where it should have been: On the road’
According to the South Dakota Highway Patrol, Ravnsborg’s vehicle left the roadway prior to striking Boever, who’d been walking along the shoulder of Highway 14 near Highmore in the nighttime hours of Sept. 12, 2020. Ravnsborg maintains he did not know what he’d struck but that “it was right in the roadway” when impact happened.
Earlier:South Dakota lawmaker gave Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg legal advice after fatal crash
Crash investigators, though, say Ravsnborg was distracted, was not forthcoming about what caused the distraction and indicated he may have seen Boever’s body prior to leaving the crash scene.
Authorities were not alerted to Boever’s death until the following morning when Ravnsborg reported discovering the body after returning to Highmore to drop off a loaner vehicle he used to get home the night prior.
The House Select Committee on Investigation, formed in November 2021 following resolution of a criminal case into Ravnsborg, found in its 22-page report that uncertainty around where Boever and Ravnsborg’s vehicle were located when the impact occurred.
All seven Republicans on the committee deemed that any crimes that occurred the night of the crash were not impeachable offenses. Those legal violations, they ruled, were either commonplace or did not directly factor into Boever’s death.
A majority of the House, however, did not agree. Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, said the facts are clear that Ravnsborg’s actions caused Boever’s death. And to suggest that he wasn’t distracted at the time of the crash means that he knew what he struck when he struck it, he said.
“If you think he saw the man, and that he was paying attention and that he wasn’t distracted, then we’re talking about a far more serious crime here,” Mortenson said. “I’m not alleging that crime at this time, I’m merely saying that his attention to him was not where it should have been: On the road.”
Noem responds to vote with one-sentence tweet
None of the 31 dissenting lawmakers offered debate ahead of the vote, though there was plenty of it during a closed-door meeting among Republicans to start the morning, which those in the room described as “tense.”
Following the vote, Rep. Tony Randolph, R-Rapid City, told reporters he did not support impeachment, because he found the entire process to be compromised by politics unrelated to Boever’s death.
Specifically, Gov. Kristi Noem’s frequent public statements gave him pause.
“This has been something that’s been a dread,” he said. “This was very, very steep and surrounded in politics. This could have been done in a more upstanding way. … I believe that the executive weighing in at any point, it helped to change the context of this whole thing. I believe it would have been best if the governor just left things alone and let it play itself out.”
Noem responded to Tuesday’s impeachment news with a one sentence social media post.
“Today, the House of Representatives did the right thing for the people of South Dakota and for Joe Boever’s family,” she stated.
With articles of impeachment adopted, the Senate will hold a trial no sooner than May 2, based on timeline protocols spelled out in the state Constitution. However, Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, has indicated a trial might not commence until early June.
In the interim, Ravnsborg must take leave from office until the trial concludes. Asked who will lead the office until then, Ravnsborg’s chief of staff Tim Bormann said Chief Deputy, Charlie McGuigan will lead day-to-day operations.
“The Office of the Attorney General is empowered under SDCL 1-11-4 to execute the duties of the office and is the intent of the Office to professionally dedicate ourselves to performing the work required of the office,” he wrote.
Ravnsborg nor his privately-hired public relations spokesperson responded to request for comment.