PIERRE, S.D. — The unprecedented process of impeaching South Dakota's attorney general after he was charged in a fatal crash is beginning to take shape in the statehouse.
Legislative leaders have announced that a select committee will spearhead the impeachment effort against Jason Ravnsborg, and Gov. Kristi Noem is promising the state will release more evidence from the crash yet this week.
In a Thursday morning, Feb. 25, news conference, House Majority Leader Kent Peterson, R-Salem, said the process is "being formalized as we speak."
"We'll take it on as that comes in," Peterson said.
On Wednesday evening, House Speaker Spencer Gosch released a plan to amend impeachment articles brought by Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre. The plan fleshes out what impeachment will look like, by convening a 10-lawmaker select committee that'll determine whether Ravnsborg committed "impeachable offenses."
While driving home from a political fundraiser in Spink County Sept. 12, Ravnsborg hit and killed pedestrian Joe Boever, 55, of Highmore, S.D. Ravnsborg called 911 and reported that he had hit something that damaged his car. Boever’s body was found the next day by Ravnsborg and Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek.
Ravnsborg faces three misdemeanors in the crash, including careless driving, driving out of his lane and operating his car while using his phone.
South Dakota's constitution includes "misdemeanors" among the potential offenses liable for a constitutional officer to be impeached. While Ravnsborg has only been charged and with three, and not yet been found guilty of any, Noem said at a news conference it was appropriate to charge Ravnsborg with impeachment papers, as the process is "administrative" and not "criminal."
"Charges have been filed," said Noem who, like Ravnsborg, is a Republican. She acknowledged Thursday she'd yet to personally speak with Ravnsborg since the accident.
The governor also spoke about her own actions in the case, including directing the Department of Public Safety earlier this week to release three hours of video interviews of Ravnsborg by North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
"I spent about 10 hours on Monday reviewing the entire case," Noem said. "That's why on Tuesday you saw me say that I believe the attorney general should resign. It was not long after that that the House and Rep. Mortenson filed those impeachment papers, and they'll continue to work through that process."
In the video interviews, Ravnsborg reacted to investigators' revelations that a pair of glasses belonging to Boever landed in the Ravnsborg's car when his head smashed through the windshield. Ravnsborg has maintained he never knew he hit a human until a day later.
Speaking along with the governor on Thursday, Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price said he supported the impeachment effort.
"I don't know all the job duties of our attorney general, but I do reflect back on an article that was written by the Rapid City Journal that reflected upon an agreement back in November where the police chiefs and sheriffs are no longer utilizing the services of the attorney general's review in use-of-force cases," Price said.
South Dakota lawmakers have never impeached a constitutional officer in the state's history. While the 10-person select committee has yet to be announced, House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, a Sioux Falls Democrat and co-sponsor of Mortenson's impeachment resolution, said he intends to sit Rep. Ryan Cwach, D-Yankton, an attorney, on the committee. He said House Speaker Gosch has been "open" with him about the process.
"I've had input," Smith said.
According to the state constitution, the House can impeach with a simple majority vote, while a conviction takes two-thirds of elected members of the Senate.
Since a county prosecutor brought charges last week, a spokesman for Ravnsborg has maintained he will not answer calls for his resignation.