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South Dakota legislators impeach GOP attorney general over fatal 2020 crash

Jason Ravnsborg was suspended ahead of a Senate trial, which could result in permanent removal from office if a two-thirds majority votes to convict him.
Image: Jason Ravnsborg
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg speaks at a news conference outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 9, 2019.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The South Dakota House voted Tuesday to impeach state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his involvement in a fatal 2020 crash that has prompted state lawmakers to seek the removal of their fellow Republican from office.

In a 36-31 vote, Ravnsborg was charged with committing crimes or misdemeanors in office that caused the death of a pedestrian. He was also charged with committing actions that "failed to meet the standard of the Office of the Attorney General" after the collision, including during its reporting and the resulting investigation.

Republicans were almost evenly split, with 28 voting in favor and 31 voting against. Eight Democrats voted for impeachment.

As a result, Ravnsborg was suspended from his official duties ahead of a Senate trial, which could lead to his permanent removal from office if a two-thirds majority votes to convict him.

The House held its vote even though a GOP-controlled House committee found that Ravnsborg's actions did not warrant impeachment.

Republican state Rep. Will Mortenson, who filed the two articles of impeachment, said Tuesday's vote would create a precedent.

"Never before in our state's history has it been that a state official criminally ended the life of one of our citizens and refused to resign from that post," Mortenson said on the House floor Tuesday. "I believe impeachment should be reserved only for grave and exceptional circumstances, and I believe this is one."

“Our top law enforcement officer has misled law enforcement during the investigation of those crimes,” Mortenson said.

In a statement after the vote, Ravnsborg said, "I respect the process but I look forward to the Senate trial where I believe I will be vindicated."

Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to a pair of traffic misdemeanors linked to the incident, which he first reported as a collision with an animal. He said he did not realize he had hit a person until the next day, when he returned to the scene and found the body of pedestrian Joseph Boever, 55.

A judge fined Ravnsborg $500 for each misdemeanor. He was not ordered to serve any jail time.

Late last month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem dialed up the pressure on legislators to impeach Ravnsborg, repeating her calls for him to be removed from office.

Noem applauded the House after Tuesday's vote.

"Today, the House of Representatives did the right thing for the people of South Dakota and for Joe Boever’s family," she wrote on Twitter.