South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg could face an unprecedented impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives following criminal charges filed against him last week, the Argus Leader has confirmed.
The development comes four days after the Hyde County States Attorney’s Office announced it would not pursue felony charges against Ravnsborg alleging criminal culpability in the death of Joe Boever, 55, of Highmore, who was walking along Highway 14 on Sept. 12 when he was struck. Instead, Ravnsborg will face three separate misdemeanor traffic charges in court for careless driving and distracted driving.
And multiple GOP leaders in Pierre confirmed Sunday night that members are actively discussing potential impeachment of Ravnsborg.
Ravnsborg said last week through a private public relations contractor based in Utah that he wouldn’t be resigning. But the filing of impeachment charges in the South Dakota Legislature could remove him from office anyway. And he won’t be able to serve as an elected official while the impeachment process is pending.
The spokesman, Mike Deaver, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday night.
Under the South Dakota Constitution, state officials can be impeached “for drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor in office . . .” The three misdemeanor charges Ravnsborg faces fall under that umbrella of impeachable offenses.
The move to impeach Ravnsborg follows public outcry that more serious charges weren’t brought against him.
The power to impeach a state official lies with the House of Representatives. A majority of its 70 members must vote to impeach. A successful impeachment vote in the House triggers a trial in the South Dakota Senate. If two-thirds of its members voted to convict, Ravnsborg would be removed from office and barred from holding future office.
The Constitution also says a person who has been impeached by the House cannot perform their official duties until they’ve been acquitted in a Senate trial.
No elected statewide official has been impeached, although there were calls in 1935 for Gov. Tom Berry’s impeachment by union officials after the Democratic governor used troops to break up a strike at the John Morrell plant in Sioux Falls.
In 2007, the state Senate voted to censure one of its members, Dan Sutton, after a trial concluded Sutton had engaged in inappropriate relations with a legislative page. But Sutton, having been a state senator, was not impeached by the House.
Ravnsborg, 44, was elected as attorney general in 2018. He ran for U.S. Senate in 2014, one of several Republican candidates who lost to former Gov. Mike Rounds. Following that election, Ravnsborg was a regular figure on the GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner circuit, where county parties host fundraisers and state officials. Those dinners helped Ravnsborg cultivate GOP delegates, who nominated him as the party’s candidate for attorney general during the party’s 2018 convention.
On the night he killed Boever, Ravnsborg was returning from a Spink County GOP dinner in Redfield. He pulled off the side of Highway 14 and reported in a 911 call that he’d hit something in the road, concluding it might have been a deer.
Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek responded to the accident, but Boever’s body was not located. Volek loaned Ravnsborg a personal vehicle to return to Pierre. Ravnsborg discovered Boever’s body the next morning as he returned Volek’s vehicle.
Crash investigators with the Highway Patrol determined Ravnsborg struck Boever while traveling outside of his designated lane of travel. But prosecutors say he wasn’t on his phone at the time of the crash.
The charge of using a mobile or electronic device while operating a motor-vehicle is a result of investigators concluding he’d been using a cellphone more than a minute before the collision.
Prior to winning the attorney general’s race, Ravnsborg practiced law in Yankton. He also served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
This story is developing. Check back with argusleader.com for more.