PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers are considering impeaching the state’s attorney general as he faces misdemeanor charges for striking and killing a man with his car, Republican legislative leaders said Monday.
Jason Ravnsborg, the state’s top law enforcement officer, indicated he will not step down while he waits for the case against him to proceed. Prosecutors have charged him with three misdemeanors but no felonies in the September death of 55-year-old Joseph Boever.
Rep. Tim Goodwin, a Republican whip whose job is to gain support from his fellow lawmakers, said Ravnsborg should resign and that lawmakers are considering impeachment if he doesn’t.
“I think what’s best for everybody is that he just does the honorable thing and steps down,” Goodwin said, adding that the crash was tragic for both Boever‘s family and Ravnsborg.
South Dakota law allows officials like the attorney general to be impeached for conduct that includes a “misdemeanor in office.”
Republican House Speaker Spencer Gosch acknowledged that impeachment was being weighed by lawmakers, but said that the legislative resolution that would start such proceedings has not been filed.
If the House initiates Ravnsborg’s impeachment, it would require a vote from at least half of House lawmakers to advance the impeachment resolution to the Senate. There, it would require two-thirds of senators to convict and remove him from office. Gov. Kristi Noem would get to appoint a replacement if Ravnsborg was removed from office or resigned.
“The investigators have presented their findings and recommended misdemeanor infractions in a wholistic process they described as going ‘above and beyond,’ and we look forward to the continued due process of law,” said Mike Deaver, a spokesperson for Ravnsborg.
He added that Ravnsborg is focused on his present duties as attorney general, especially during the legislative session.
The Republican attorney general, who was elected to his first term in 2018, initially told authorities that he thought he had struck a deer or another large animal as he was driving home to Pierre from a Republican fundraiser late on Sept. 12. He said he searched the unlit area with a cellphone flashlight and didn’t realize he had killed a man until the next day when he returned to the accident scene on U.S. 14 near Highmore.
After an investigation that stretched over five months, prosecutors said they still had questions about the crash but were unable to file more serious criminal charges against Ravnsborg. They charged him with careless driving, driving out of his lane and operating a motor vehicle while on his phone.
Though prosecutors said he was not using his phone at the time of the crash, he had been using it while driving about one minute before. The attorney general could face up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine on each charge, if convicted.
Michael Moore, the Beadle County State’s Attorney who is assisting in the case, said Monday that when Ravnsborg was interviewed by law enforcement after the crash, he gave “varying examples of possibly what could have happened” to cause him to swerve on to the highway shoulder where he hit Boever. But Moore said he expected more details to emerge with Noem promising to release more information this week and Boever‘s widow planning to file a civil lawsuit against Ravnsborg.
Moore said of the crash investigators’ interview, “We have to live with what information they give us.”
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