SD Lawmakers Take Impeachment Investigation Into AG Jason Ravnsborg Behind Closed Doors

The impeachment investigation into South Dakota's attorney general began Tuesday as state lawmakers met behind closed doors. Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was involved in a crash last year that killed a 55-year-old pedestrian, but he opted to remain in office after pleading guilty to a pair of misdemeanor charges earlier this year.

Ravnsborg struck Joseph Boever with his car in September 2020 when the man was walking on the side of a rural highway. The attorney general initially reported the crash as an animal collision and said that he did not realize he had struck and killed a man until he returned to the site of the accident the next day.

State lawmakers are now working to decide whether Ravnsborg's conduct and involvement in the deadly crash warrants his impeachment. They will first have to determine what comprises an impeachable offense in South Dakota, where the state constitution notes that an attorney general can be impeached for "corrupt conduct, malfeasance or misdemeanor in office."

Ravnsborg would be the first state official to be impeached by the Legislature if lawmakers deem the charges warranted. If impeachment is recommended, a majority of the House would have to approve the charges.

The state Senate would then have to hold a trial and achieve a two-thirds majority vote to convict Ravnsborg and oust him from office.

SD AG Impeachment Probe
South Dakota lawmakers met behind closed doors on Tuesday, December 28, as they launched an impeachment investigation into state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his conduct surrounding a fatal car crash last year. Above, Ravnsborg speaks in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on February 23, 2014. Dirk Lammers/AP Photo

The House speaker, Republican Spencer Gosch, had pledged a transparent process as a committee that he appointed considers whether to recommend Ravnsborg's impeachment. But it took just four minutes on Tuesday for the committee—made of seven Republicans and two Democrats—to take an oath then move into a private executive session with the attorney hired to guide the inquiry.

Lawmakers planned to take formal action that will lay out the scope of their investigation during a public session slated for Wednesday.

Governor Kristi Noem, a fellow Republican, has called for Ravnsborg's ouster, and the secretary of public safety, who oversaw the crash investigation, has said he believes the attorney general should have faced a manslaughter charge. The governor gave Gosch a copy of the crash investigation, which lawmakers plan to delve into as they weigh whether to bring impeachment charges.

A spokesman for Ravnsborg did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Gosch indicated Tuesday's private meeting was held under "attorney and client privilege." State law allows government bodies to meet in executive sessions to consult with legal counsel and to discuss the "qualifications, competence, performance, character or fitness of any public officer." Any official action must be made in an open meeting.

The House voted in November to make public the material that the investigative committee uses, with the exception of redacted confidential and "nonrelevant information."

But the impeachment inquiry has been held under a cloud of secrecy: Gosch has refused to divulge the names of the 49 House members who petitioned for a special legislative session to launch the committee in the first place. He and the Legislature's support staff are facing a lawsuit from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the South Dakota Newspaper Association to formally release the names.

Even though those names have already been released—by the Senate pro tempore, and against Gosch's wishes—the media organizations have pressed the lawsuit in order to establish that petitions for a special legislative session are public record.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ravnsborg Impeachment Investigation
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was involved in a crash last year that killed a 55-year-old pedestrian, but he opted to remain in office after pleading guilty to a pair of misdemeanor charges earlier this year. Above, Jane Boever holds a photo of the tombstone marking the grave of her brother Joseph Boever, who was killed in the incident, outside the courthouse in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, on Thursday, August 26. Stephen Groves/AP Photo