Impeachment report offers Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg benefit of doubt on fatal crash
A House Select Committee's majority opinion -- backed by all six GOP members of the group -- pinpointed an errant bone fragment and Ravnsborg's own statements to express doubt on the South Dakota Highway Patrol's investigation that found that all four tires of the AG's car crossed a fog line before striking and killing pedestrian Joe Boever.
PIERRE, S.D. — A 21-page report issued on Monday, March 28, by a House committee appears to offer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg numerous benefits of the doubt in recommending Ravnsborg not be impeached for striking and killing a man with his vehicle in 2020.
Specifically, the committee's majority expressed doubt in an earlier investigation by South Dakota Highway Patrol that found all four tires of Ravnsborg's Ford Taurus had left the lane of traffic when he fatally struck pedestrian Joe Boever, 55, of Highmore, South Dakota, in September 2020.
The committee honed in on an errant bone fragment and noted Ravnsborg's own testimony appeared to undercut the fact in the case, previously accepted by both prosecutors and investigators.
"It appears that his vehicle may have left his lane of travel and drifted to the right onto the shoulder where he struck and killed Joe Boever," the committee report says.
However, the committee's GOP majority said they'd yet to be given a sufficient explanation why a bone fragment from Boever landed "close to the lane of traffic" and not in the grass.
The committee voted 6-2 on party lines on Monday to approve the majority report. The committee's two Democratic members — House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, of Sioux Falls, and Rep. Ryan Cwach, of Yankton — voted to support a minority opinion that does call for Ravnsborg's impeachment. All six Republicans on the committee voted against recommending impeachment.
The South Dakota constitution counts a number of impeachable offenses, including "crimes," "misdemeanors in office," and "malfeasance," the latter of which Smith and Cwach contend Ravnsborg committed by inappropriately using his office's resources to "learn facts about his case."
"This is inappropriate and beyond the grasp of other individuals under criminal investigation," says the minority report.
However, the majority report veered on all the impeachable offenses, splitting hairs over Oxford commas and the definition, for example, of "corrupt conduct."
With regard to a charge of malfeasance, the majority report argues that while it's acknowledged that Ravnsborg misrepresented his phone use the night of the crash to North Dakota investigators, it's not clear he had an "evil ... motive" for doing so.
Similarly, with respect to misdemeanors, the committee attempts to differentiate between crimes committed out of office and those perpetrated "in office," or in an official work capacity.
Noting that Ravnsborg was returning from a political fundraiser in Redfield the night of the crash, the committee suggests his actions that night were in a personal, not a professional capacity.
"He attended this political function in his personal capacity as a candidate and not as a duty of his office," said the majority report.
The report states that Ravnsborg spent approximately 69% of his hour-plus drive time from Redfield to Highmore on the evening of Sept. 12 on his phone. Of the dozen or more subpoenas the committee issued, they sent none to Ravnsborg.
"The Select Committee submitted numerous requests, both formal and informal, to Attorney General Ravnsborg and his legal team seeking his participation in the impeachment process," said the report.
"I'm truly surprised the vote was as lopsided as it was," Joe Boever's cousin Nick Nemec said Monday. "They [the committee] were more concerned about process issues than actual conduct that happened."
In her official Twitter account, Gov. Kristi Noem spoke bluntly about the committee report, saying, "Jason Ravnsborg killed a man" and that he lied to investigators.
The full House of Representatives will meet in Pierre on April 12 to consider voting to continue or end the impeachment process.