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South Dakota House votes to launch "unprecedented" impeachment probe of state's attorney general over deadly car crash

South Dakota attorney general under fire
Calls for South Dakota attorney general's impeachment rise amid investigation 03:01

South Dakota's House launched an investigation Tuesday into whether the state's attorney general should be impeached for his conduct surrounding a car crash last year that killed a pedestrian.

A sizable majority of the Republican-dominated House voted to have a committee prepare a report and recommend whether Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg should be impeached. It could take weeks for the committee of seven Republicans and two Democrats to delve into the crash investigation. The committee is a mix of Ravnsborg's political allies and those who have called for his ouster.

Ravnsborg, a Republican who was elected to his first term as attorney general in 2018, pleaded no contest in August to a pair of misdemeanors in the crash that killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever, who was walking along a rural stretch of highway when Ravnsborg struck him with his car. Ravnsborg has insisted that he did not realize he killed a man until he returned to the scene the next day and discovered his body.

South Dakota Attorney General Fatal Accident
Jane Boever holds a photo of her brother Joseph Boever's tombstone outside the courthouse in Fort Pierre, S.D., on Aug. 26, 2021.  Stephen Groves / AP

Last year, officials said Ravnsborg was "distracted" before he drove onto a highway shoulder before the fatal crash. The final line in the "narrative" section of the state's report said: "The specific distraction is still under investigation." 

Ravnsborg called 911 that night and told a dispatcher that he hit "something" and that "it was in the middle of the road." When the 911 dispatcher asked if it could have been a deer, Ravnsborg initially said, "I have no idea" before adding, "It could be."

Jason Ravnsborg
Jason Ravnsborg, the South Dakota attorney general Bloomberg via Getty Images

House lawmakers said they first wanted to know whether Ravnsborg could be impeached for his misdemeanor convictions, the fact that he killed a man, or that law enforcement associations have said they no longer have confidence in his office.

The state constitution stipulates that officials like the attorney general can be impeached for "corrupt conduct, malfeasance or misdemeanor in office." But a state official has never been impeached in South Dakota.

"Our first meeting is literally to sit down, go through the constitution, go through case law, to get an idea," said House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican.

Governor Kristi Noem, who has called for Ravnsborg to resign, has delivered a hard drive containing the crash investigation to Gosch, but he said the committee would subpoena the crash investigation from the Department of Public Safety "just to ensure accuracy."

Gov. Kristi Noem released videos of Jason Ravnsborg's two interviews with law enforcement in Feb. 2021.  KELO-TV

Ravnsborg's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the House's move.

Republican Rep. Will Mortenson, who first called for Ravnsborg's impeachment in February, pushed to allow public access to the material the committee reviews. The House agreed to make public that material, with the exception of redacted confidential and "nonrelevant information."

"This is unprecedented in state history, which means we need to be thoughtful," Mortenson said. "And keep in mind the public, the family of any victims here and the subject of impeachment as well."

The investigative committee had not scheduled its first meeting, but Gosch said it would meet later on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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