South Dakota AG lied about fatal crash, impeachment prosecutors say



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South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg lied to investigators and abused the power of his office after he punched and killed a pedestrian, prosecutors argued Tuesday at the start of an impeachment trial that could remove him .

Ravnsborg’s lawyers countered that such an action would inappropriately destroy the will of voters because what he argued was an accident.

Ravnsborg, a Republican who only recently announced he would not seek a second term, faces two counts in the state’s first-ever impeachment trial. Criminal investigators, some lawmakers and the victim’s family have questioned the veracity of Ravnsborg’s actions after the 2020 crash. Senators can also vote on whether to bar Ravnsborg from future office.

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg faces an impeachment trial after he punched and killed a pedestrian in 2020.

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg faces an impeachment trial after he punched and killed a pedestrian in 2020.
(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Either way, the outcome of a procedure that is expected to last two days will close a chapter that has upended state politics, pitting Republican Governor Kristi Noem against Ravnsborg and some members of her own party who are opposed to his aggressive pursuit of withdrawal.


“He absolutely saw the man he punched in the moments that followed,” said Alexis Tracy, the Clay County prosecutor who is leading the prosecution.

Prosecutors also told senators that Ravnsborg used his title “to set the tone and gain influence” following the crash, even as he allegedly made “inaccurate statements and outright lies” to investigators. the accident. The prosecution released a montage of audio clips of Ravnsborg referring to himself as the attorney general.

While questioning investigators about the crash, prosecutors investigated Ravnsborg’s alleged misrepresentations in the aftermath of the crash, including that he never exceeded the excessive speed limit, that he contacted Boever’s family to offer their condolences and that he didn’t go through his phone while driving home.

Ravnsborg maintained that he had done nothing wrong and presented the impeachment trial as a chance to exonerate himself. He solved the criminal case last year by pleading no contest to two traffic offences, including illegally changing lanes and using a phone while driving, and was fined by a judge.

The attorney general’s defense focused its arguments on the impeachment implications during opening statements on Tuesday, imploring lawmakers to consider the implications of their decision on the function of state government. Ravnsborg brought in Ross Garber, a legal analyst and law professor at Tulane University who specializes in impeachment proceedings.

Ravnsborg claims he did not know he had hit a man until he returned to the scene the next morning.

Ravnsborg claims he did not know he had hit a man until he returned to the scene the next morning.
(AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)

“It defeats the will of the voters,” Garber told the Senate. “Don’t get me wrong, that’s what you plan to do.

Ravnsborg was driving home from a political fundraiser after dark on Sept. 12, 2020, on a state highway in central South Dakota, when his car hit “something,” according to a transcript of his 911 call. afterwards. He later said it could have been a deer or some other animal.

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

Investigators said they doubted some of Ravnsborg’s statements. In earlier testimony to lawmakers, they said they determined the attorney general walked right past Boever’s body and the flashlight Boever was carrying — still on the next morning — as he looked around the scene at night. of the accident.

There’s no way to pass by without seeing this,” Arnie Rummel, an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations who led the criminal investigation, said Tuesday.

On Tuesday, impeachment prosecutors laid out a timeline of the night and delved into the seconds before and after the crash. They raised the fact that crash investigators who examined Ravnsborg’s cell phone found limited GPS data within minutes the attorney general walked the scene of the crash.

Cassidy Halseth, an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation who examined Ravnsborg’s cellphones, said he could not explain why the phone did not contain accurate GPS data for those minutes, but that he had found no indication that Ravnsborg had tampered with the phone.


However, prosecutors also referred to an exchange Ravnsborg had with one of his staff members three days after the crash, after he submitted his phones to crash investigators. Ravnsborg questioned a South Dakota Criminal Investigation Division agent about what would turn up during forensic examinations of his cellphones, even though the agency was supposedly not involved in the investigation to avoid disputes. ‘interests.

“We weren’t supposed to be involved,” now-retired agent Brent Gromer said of why the trade made him uncomfortable.
Investigators identified what they believed to be slippages in Ravnsborg’s statements, such as when he said he turned around at the scene of the crash and ‘saw it’ before quickly correcting himself and say, “I didn’t see it”. And they argued that Boever’s face popped through Ravnsborg’s windshield because his glasses were found in the car.

On Tuesday, Ravnsborg’s defense also referenced prosecutors’ decision to only charge him with traffic offences. The defense said Ravnsborg cooperated fully during the investigation and presented its inaccuracies as being due to human error rather than malicious intent. His defense attorney said Ravnsborg was willing to take a polygraph test, but criminal investigators determined that testing the attorney general’s sincerity would not have been effective.

Ravnsborg claims Governor Kristi Noem pushed for his removal because he investigated ethics complaints against Noem.

Ravnsborg claims Governor Kristi Noem pushed for his removal because he investigated ethics complaints against Noem.
(AP Photo/John Raoux)

The GOP-controlled Senate, which has 32 Republican and three Democratic members, will hear from impeachment prosecutors, defense attorneys, crash investigators and former Ravnsborg staffers.

It will take 24 senators, or two-thirds of the body’s 35 members, to convict Ravnsborg on one of two articles of indictment: committing a crime causing death and a misdemeanor.

The latter alleges that he misled the investigators and abused the power of his office. Investigators said Ravnsborg asked an agent from the state Criminal Investigation Division what crash investigators could find on his cellphone. He said he was just looking for factual information.

Noem called on Ravnsborg to step down soon after the crash and then pressed lawmakers to pursue impeachment. Noem also publicly endorsed Ravnsborg’s predecessor, Republican Marty Jackley, to be elected as his replacement. If Ravnsborg is expelled, the governor will appoint 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 White House bid in 2024, pushed for his removal in part because he investigated ethics complaints against Noem.

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


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