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A South Dakota House committee has recommended that the state’s attorney general should not face impeachment charges for his involvement in a fatal car crash in 2020.
The committee, controlled by Republicans, determined by a vote of 7-2 that Republican Jason Ravnsborg’s actions related to the crash that left a pedestrian dead did not warrant his removal from office but he could still potentially be removed by individual House lawmakers who decide to bring up impeachment charges.
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The committee’s announcement prompted tears from the widow of the pedestrian Ravnsborg struck and killed near a rural highway in September 2020. As the committee met behind closed doors for over four hours Friday, Jennifer Boever, the widow of Joseph Boever, watched lawmakers through a window into the conference room, expressing anger at times at lawmakers’ demeanor as they appeared to discuss the report.
The attorney general has cast Joseph Boever’s death as a tragic accident and pleaded no contest last year to a pair of traffic misdemeanors in the crash.
Ravnsborg initially reported the crash as a collision with an animal and has said he did not realize he struck a man until he returned to the scene the next day and discovered his body. Criminal investigators doubted that account, but prosecutors said they were unable to prove that Ravnsborg realized he killed a man the night of the crash.
In a 911 call after the crash, Ravnsborg was initially unsure about what he hit and then told a dispatcher it might have been a deer. He said he didn’t realize he struck a man until he returned to the crash scene the next day and discovered the body of Boever, 55.
Prosecutors said Ravnsborg was on his phone roughly one minute before the crash, but 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 down at the speedometer.
A toxicology test taken roughly 15 hours after the crash showed no alcohol in Ravnsborg’s system, and people who attended the fundraiser he attended that night said he was not seen drinking alcohol.
The committee’s decision goes against the public statements from South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem who has called for Ravnsborg to be removed from office.
“Jason Ravnsborg killed a man, lied to investigators about the events of that night, and attempted to cover it up,” Noem tweeted Friday. “Joseph Boever’s family deserves justice.”
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Noem added, “The question before this committee was, should the Attorney General should continue to be the top law enforcement officer in the state of South Dakota. It is clear that he should not be. My hope is that the House of Representatives as a whole will do the right thing.”
The committee’s 22-page report lays out an argument for why Ravnsborg’s conduct surrounding the crash did not meet grounds for impeachment, which are listed in the state constitution as “drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, malfeasance or misdemeanors in office.”
House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican, argued that the committee’s job was to keep its focus strictly on Ravnsborg’s actions in the crash and whether they were impeachable.
When he was asked by reporters whether he thought Ravnbsorg deserved to stay in office, he said: “Deserves has nothing to do with it. We’ve got to be clear and concise and the factual basis upon what the Constitution says that we can do.”
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Democratic Rep. Jamie Smith, who was on the committee, defended its work, but said he believed the attorney general had committed “malfeasance.” The minority report argues that Ravnsborg was not forthcoming to law enforcement officers investigating the crash and “misrepresented” his cell phone use before the crash.
Democratic Rep. Ryan Cwach, another member of the committee, said: “The attorney general hasn’t been able to say what he was distracted by.”
Associated Press contributed to this report