SD House committee points to ‘in office’ clause to clear AG

Mar 29, 2022, 2:48 PM | Updated: 3:49 pm

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Republicans on a South Dakota House committee want to clear the state’s attorney general of impeachment charges for his actions surrounding a 2020 fatal car crash, arguing that anything he did was not part of his work “in office.”

But those pushing to remove Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office are not giving up before the full House convenes in two weeks.

A House committee concluded its monthslong inquiry late Monday by voting 6-2 on party lines to recommend that Ravnsborg, a Republican, face no impeachment charges. Its 21-page majority report repeatedly cites a clause in the state constitution that says officials can be impeached for actions “in office” and argues most of Ravnsborg’s actions surrounding the crash were not done in his official capacity as attorney general or were not done with “an evil or corrupt motive.”

The report clears Ravnsborg of anything that would merit impeachment in the September 2020 crash that killed Joseph Boever, who was walking near a rural highway. The attorney general last year pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanors and was required to pay fines.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem quickly slammed the committee’s decision and called on House lawmakers to “do the right thing” when they meet on April 12. It would take two House members to introduce articles of impeachment and a majority of the Republican-controlled House to impeach.

Democrats may also try to convince their Republican colleagues to adopt their minority report recommending impeachment.

“It’s up to the individual member to make their own decision,” House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican, said.

The committee moved to release parts of the crash investigation that have not been redacted late Monday, but it’s not clear when it will be available online. The Legislative Research Council on Tuesday declined requests for the files.

Boever’s family decried the committee’s decision as failing to hold the attorney general accountable for Boever’s death, but the debate in the House will likely hinge on a legal argument over the state’s constitution.

South Dakota lawmakers are treading uncommon ground. The Legislature had never investigated impeachment for an elected official, the committee found, and only once, in 1917, launched an impeachment inquiry into a circuit judge.

“The majority concluded a far narrower interpretation of impeachment power than it should have,” said Republican Rep. Will Mortenson, who brought articles of impeachment last year.

“It is uncontroverted that the attorney general drove out of his lane, ran off the road and killed an innocent South Dakotan,” he added. “And his first call was to the dispatcher where he said this is the attorney general and I was in the middle of the road, which is patently untrue. And so the crimes and the actions surrounding the crimes have been my focus.”

But it’s not clear whether Mortenson and the governor will be able to persuade lawmakers to impeach. Democrats have shown they are ready to do so, but they hold just eight seats in the 70-member chamber.

In the minority report supported by the two Democrats, they argue that elected officials are always “in office,” pointing to how Ravnsborg used his official letterhead to issue a statement shortly after the crash. They also argue he committed “malfeasance” by giving ” false or misleading” statements to law enforcement during the crash investigation.

“The story changed multiple times,” Democratic Rep. Jamie Smith said.

Ravnsborg first reported the crash as a collision with an animal and said he did not realize he struck a man until he returned to the scene the next day. He also did not admit to using his cellphone while driving earlier that night until investigators pressed him. The investigators told the impeachment committee they did not believe Ravnsborg, but prosecutors said they were unable to prove that he realized he killed a man the night of the crash.

In a sign that it might be difficult to get enough House votes to impeach, the committee Republicans who voted against impeachment represent a broad swath of a caucus that has rarely been on the same page this year. The report also spends four pages documenting GOP resentment at Noem’s “interference in the criminal proceedings and the impeachment process.”

Even House Republican leader Rep. Kent Peterson, who supported articles of impeachment last year, voted for the report that cleared Ravnsborg. Peterson on Tuesday did not respond to requests for comment.

Other Republican committee members referenced the report when asked to explain the committee’s decision.

“Attorney Ravnsborg at best underplayed or omitted, and at worst, misrepresented whether he was on his phone during the drive,” the report said, but added that those law enforcement interviews were not given “in office” as attorney general.

Mortenson hoped there would be a groundswell for Ravnsborg’s impeachment, with pressure from voters on lawmakers.

Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, called for voters to contact legislators, but expressed little confidence that Ravsnborg will be removed.

“(Boever) has not gotten justice yet,” Nemec said. “I’m quickly losing hope that he will get justice..”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


(Facebook Photo/City of San Luis, Arizona)...
Associated Press

San Luis authorities receive complaints about 911 calls going across border

Authorities in San Luis say they are receiving more complaints about 911 calls mistakenly going across the border.
5 days ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Associated Press

Daylight saving time begins in most of US this weekend

No time change is observed in Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas.
13 days ago
Mexican army soldiers prepare a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen in Matamo...
Associated Press

How the 4 abducted Americans in Mexico were located

The anonymous tip that led Mexican authorities to a remote shack where four abducted Americans were held described armed men and blindfolds.
13 days ago
Tom Brundy points to a newly built irrigation canal on one of the fields at his farm Tuesday, Feb. ...
Associated Press

Southwest farmers reluctant to idle farmland to save water

There is a growing sense that fallowing will have to be part of the solution to the increasingly desperate drought in the West.
20 days ago
A young bison calf stands in a pond with its herd at Bull Hollow, Okla., on Sept. 27, 2022. The cal...
Associated Press

US aims to restore bison herds to Native American lands after near extinction

U.S. officials will work to restore more large bison herds to Native American lands under a Friday order from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
20 days ago
Children play in a dried riverbed in Flassans-sur-Issole, southern France, Wednesday, March 1, 2023...
Associated Press

Italy, France confront 2nd year of western Europe drought

ROME (AP) — Bracing for Italy’s second consecutive year of drought for the first time in decades, Premier Giorgia Meloni huddled with ministers Wednesday to start mapping out an action plan Wednesday, joining France and other nations in western Europe grappling with scant winter rain and snow. Meloni and her ministers decided to appoint an […]
22 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo: OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center)...

Here’s what you need to know about OCD and where to find help

It's fair to say that most people know what obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders generally are, but there's a lot more information than meets the eye about a mental health diagnosis that affects about one in every 100 adults in the United States.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
SD House committee points to ‘in office’ clause to clear AG