PIERRE, SD (AP) – The South Dakota Senate on Tuesday convicted Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg of two referral charges stemming from a fatal crash in 2020, removing and excluding him from a future position in a scathing reprimand. senators did not believe his account of the crash.
Ravnsborg, a freshman Republican who just recently announced he would not run for re-election, showed little emotion as senators first convicted him of a crime that led to his death. They then issued another guilty verdict for a misdemeanor charge alleging that he misled investigators and abused his office.
Ravnsborg told a 911 dispatcher the night of the crash that he may have struck a deer or other large animal, and said he did not know he had struck a man — 55-year-old Joseph Bower — until he returned to the scene the next day. morning. Crime investigators said they did not believe some of Ravnsborg’s statements, and several senators made it clear that they did not.
“There is no doubt that it was a lie,” said Sen. Lee Sonbeck, the chamber’s top Republican. “This man fell under an innocent South Dakota.”
Schoenbeck also criticized Ravnsborg for refusing to testify in his defense, saying Ravnsborg should have shared “what the hell he did” on the night of the crash.
“There’s a microphone right there, and that’s a damn short walk,” Schoenbeck said.
The convictions required a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which is 32-3 controlled by Republicans. The senators garnered a minimum of 24 votes to convict Ravnsborg for the first charge, with some senators saying the two offenses for which he pleaded guilty were not serious enough crimes to justify the referral. The charge of infringement – Ravnsborg also asked investigators what data could be found on his cell phone, among others – ended with 31 votes.
Votes on Ravnsborg’s ban from the next post, taken in both cases, were unanimous.
Ravnsborg’s face showed little emotion throughout the voting, holding his hand over his mouth as he had for much of the trial, and then writing in a notebook in his arms. He did not answer questions from journalists as he was leaving the Capitol.
Ravnsborg in September agreed to an unknown deal with Boever’s widow.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, who has been a staunch supporter of Ravnsborg, said the vote was “fair”.
“It’s just a relief. “It’s been almost two years since the drug was taken and it looks like a weight off my shoulders,” he said.
Ravnsborg is the first official to be referred and convicted in South Dakota history.
Gov. Christie Noem, who will choose Ravensburg’s replacement until the candidate is sworn in to replace him in November, called on her Republican fiancé to step down immediately after the crash and later urged lawmakers to continue. As the epic unfolded, Noem publicly approved Ravensburg’s predecessor, Republican Marty Jackley, for election as his replacement.
The governor celebrated the conviction on Twitter, saying he had lifted “the dark cloud over the attorney general’s office.”
“It’s time to move on and start rebuilding trust in the office,” he said, but gave no indication of who would be temporarily selected.
Ravnsborg has argued that the governor, who has been bidding for a possible White House bid in 2024, has pushed for his removal in part because he has been investigating ethical allegations against Noem.
As the referral trial opened on Tuesday, prosecutors posed a question hanging over the aftermath of the September 2020 conflict: Did Ravnsborg know he killed a man on the night of the accident?
“He absolutely saw the man who hit the next few moments,” said Alexis Tracy, a Clay County attorney who led the prosecution.
Prosecutors also told senators that Ravnsborg had used his title “to set the tone and gain influence” in the aftermath of the accident, although he allegedly made “inaccuracies and outright lies” to investigators. The prosecutor played a montage of Ravnsborg audio quotes referring to himself as attorney general.
Prosecutors investigated Ravnsborg’s alleged inaccuracies during the crash, including that he never drove too fast, that he contacted the Boever family to express his condolences, and that he did not look at his phone during the journey. to the house.
The prosecution played a series of video clips during the final hearings showing Ravnsborg’s changing account about using his phone during interviews with criminal investigators. The attorney general initially denied using his phone while driving, but later admitted that he was looking at his phone a few minutes before the crash. When it came time for the senators to speak, many noticed a reconstruction of an accident that found that Ravnsborg’s car was completely out of its lane, contrary to his initial statement that he was in the middle of the road at the time of the collision.
Ravnsborg settled the criminal case last year, citing two counts of traffic offenses, including illegally changing lanes and using a telephone while driving, and was fined by a judge.
The attorney general’s defense asked the senators to consider the implications of the referral on the functioning of the state government. Ross Garber, a legal analyst and law professor at Tulane University who specializes in referral procedures, told senators that the referral would “undermine the will of the electorate.”
Ravnsborg was driving home from a political fundraiser after dark on September 12, 2020, on a state highway in central South Dakota when his car hit “something,” according to a recording of his subsequent 911 call. He told the sender that it might have been a deer or another animal.
Investigators found what they thought were slips in Ravnsborg’s statements, such as when he said he went back to the scene of the accident and “saw” him before correcting himself quickly and saying, “I did not see him.” And they claimed that Boever’s face had gone through Ravnsborg windshield because his glasses were found in the car.
“We have heard better lies from 5-year-olds,” said Pennington State Prosecutor Mark Vargo, who is acting as a prosecutor of prosecution, in connection with Ravnsborg’s statement.
Investigators found that the attorney general walked right next to Boever’s body and the flashlight that Boever was holding — still lit the next morning — as he looked around the scene on the night of the crash.
Ravnsborg said neither he nor the county sheriff who came to the scene knew that Bover’s body was just a few feet from the sidewalk at the shoulder of the freeway.
“There is no way to go without seeing this,” Arnie Rummel, an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation who led the criminal investigation, said in a statement Tuesday.
Prosecutors also took on an exchange of views Ravnsborg had with one of his staff members three days after the crash, after submitting his phones to investigators. Ravnsborg asked an agent in the South Dakota Department of Forensics what he would appear to be during his cell phone forensics, although the agency allegedly did not participate in the conflict of interest investigation.
“We should not have gotten involved,” said retired agent Brent Gromer, describing why the exchange made him uncomfortable.
Ravnsborg’s defense attorney claimed that the attorney general had done nothing wrong. His defense attorney, Mike Butler, described the deviations in Ravnsborg’s memory that night as human error and dismissed the testimony of Rummel, the accident investigator, as an “opinion” that could not be held in court.
During the final battles, Butler said the prosecution found “no criminal guilt” for Bower’s death and urged senators to refrain from repeating the case.
“No amount of fire and sulfur changes this fact,” he said.
Senator Arthur Rusch, a retired judge who said he met Ravnsborg when he was a young lawyer in Rusch’s court, was among the senators who did not support the referral for the first charge, but did it for the second. He said he was disturbed by Ravnsborg’s actions during the interrogation of agents of the Criminal Investigation Department on aspects of the case and the issuance of a press release on the Advocate General’s stationery.