South Dakota AG impeachment committee meets amid new claims
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota House committee examining whether Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg should be impeached for his conduct after killing a pedestrian with his car in 2020 detailed Thursday how it planned to wrap up its investigation, while attempting to keep out fresh allegations from one of Gov. Kristi Noem’s top officials.
After meeting behind closed doors for nearly two hours late Thursday, lawmakers announced they would be delivering a report, which will include the crash investigation with some parts redacted, to House lawmakers and the public by the end of the month. The committee of seven Republicans and two Democrats also planned to meet March 28 to discuss whether to recommend Ravnsborg face impeachment charges from the House.
The committee’s decision may be complicated by a letter the committee received Wednesday from Craig Price, Noem’s public safety secretary who oversaw the crash investigation. The letter said Ravnsborg had been pulled over for traffic offenses eight times between taking office in 2019 and the fatal crash, including five in which he either identified himself as the attorney general or displayed a badge.
Although he wasn’t ticketed for any of those eight stops, Ravnsborg previously accumulated eight traffic tickets since 2014, including six speeding tickets.
The letter irked some members of the committee as an intrusion into their deliberations, even as it raised new allegations about Ravnsborg’s conduct beyond the immediate scope of the crash.
House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican overseeing the impeachment investigation, said Thursday the committee would send a letter to Noem telling her not to release any more information about the crash investigation.
“What she’s doing is inappropriate,” Gosch said. “We have a job to do. We’ve asked her numerous times to stop.”
The House has limited its investigation to Ravnsborg’s actions surrounding the death of Joseph Boever, the man he struck and killed along a rural highway in September 2020. The attorney general has cast it as a tragic accident and pleaded no contest last year to a pair of traffic misdemeanors in the crash.
His spokesman has not responded to requests for comment. Ravnsborg has mostly stayed silent throughout the impeachment investigation, including to the committee. Gosch said he did not respond to two invitations from the House committee to present his side of events.
Ravnsborg, in limited public comments, has defended his conduct surrounding the crash.
The attorney general has said he did not realize he struck a man until he returned to the scene the next day and discovered Boever’s body. Criminal investigators doubted that account, but prosecutors said they were unable to prove that Ravnsborg saw Boever’s body the night of the crash.
Noem and Price have been displeased by lawmakers who raised questions about whether Noem’s administration applied undue pressure on prosecutors as she pushed for Ravnsborg to be forced from office.
In Wednesday’s letter, Price urged the committee to consider impeachment, calling Ravnsborg “unfit” to be the state’s top law enforcement officer. He alleged that the attorney general and his top aides made “disparaging and offensive statements” in text messages about other state officials and made untruthful statements to criminal investigators.
Price also alleged Ravnsborg was untruthful about only using his state-owned car for work because he used it to travel for military duty.
Price didn’t reveal specifics about text messages between Ravnsborg and his top aides except for one that the attorney general allegedly received from a political consultant two days after the crash.
“Well, at least the guy was a Democrat,” the political consultant texted Ravnsborg, according to Price’s letter.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, has pushed for the attorney general’s removal. He noted that Price didn’t say how Ravnsborg responded and that the text may have been a “flippant” remark. But he said it showed that Ravnsborg was thinking about himself after the crash.
“Ravnsborg was more concerned about his political future than the man he killed and left laying in a ditch all night, ” Nemec said.
It’s not clear whether Price’s letter will change the course of the House impeachment investigation. Gosch said they’re irrelevant to the crash.
“Trying to influence the public in an opinion and events that aren’t even surrounding what we’re trying to do is inappropriate,” he said of Price’s letter. “We’re going to have to make a difficult decision one way or the other. And we are going to ultimately make some people angry, and some people not.”