Gov. Kristi Noem says 'dark cloud' over Attorney General office lifted after impeachment

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Jason Ravnsborg is no longer South Dakota's attorney general, and he'll never hold public office in the state again.

The South Dakota Senate convicted the 46-year-old Republican on Tuesday on two Articles of Impeachment delivered from the state House earlier this year, contending Ravnsborg lied to law enforcement and abused his office following a summer 2020 crash.

The decision completes the first impeachment trial in the state's history.

More: South Dakota state Senate hears Jason Ravnsborg impeachment arguments: Photos

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, right, looks down as he listens to opening remarks by the prosecution on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, right, looks down as he listens to opening remarks by the prosecution on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.

"The president declares the attorney general of South Dakota is convicted of the first article of impeachment and removed from office of Attorney General," Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden said from the president's desk as he slammed the gavel after the House's charge that Ravnsborg committed crimes that led to the death of 55-year-old Joe Boever on Sept. 12, 2020.

Boever had been walking along a rural highway when Ravnsborg's car veered off the road. Ravnsborg has never explained why he left his lane of travel.

The votes capped hours of testimony and cross examination from state troopers and detectives, who contended during the trial and in previous statements Ravnsborg likely knew he'd struck a human — not an animal — before leaving the crash scene.

Jason Ravnsborg and his attorney, Mike Butler, leave the SD Capitol after Ravnsborg was convicted on both articles of impeachment and voted to be removed from the Attorney General's office on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
Jason Ravnsborg and his attorney, Mike Butler, leave the SD Capitol after Ravnsborg was convicted on both articles of impeachment and voted to be removed from the Attorney General's office on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.

Ravnsborg also told authorities on multiple occasions his car was in the middle of the road when he struck Boever, contrary to what crash investigators determined.

However, Ravnsborg's legal counsel, Sioux Falls attorney Mike Butler and Ross Garber, a nationally renowned legal expert in political investigations and impeachments, attempted to convince at least 10 of the 33 senators present that even though their client's account of what happened wasn't accurate, his actions did not rise to the level of removal from office.

"Being mistaken is human, and although Attorney General Ravnsborg was elected attorney general, he did not leave the human race and become perfect. And he is still not perfect," Butler said. "But what he did here, each and every step along the way, was to provide legal cooperation."

Jenny Boever, widow of the deceased Joe Boever, cries as the senate vote passes to impeach and remove Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
Jenny Boever, widow of the deceased Joe Boever, cries as the senate vote passes to impeach and remove Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.

More: Impeachment trial to cap almost two years of uncertainty around South Dakota attorney general

But in the end, it was Senate prosecutors Mark Vargo and Alexis Tracy who proved to be more convincing.

While the vote on the first article of impeachment about Ravnsborg committing crimes that led to Boever's death was as narrow as a two-thirds vote requirement allows, 24-9, the article of impeachment alleging he abused his title and office brought a resounding 31-2 vote to remove him from his position.

That result stemmed from the prosecution showing several video clips of Ravnsborg on the night of the crash and in other police encounters, making sure law enforcement is aware of the elected office he holds.

Senators also heard testimony from detectives within Ravnsborg's office, who said their former boss sought information regarding forensic cellphone data retrieving capabilities following the crash.

"Historically, and in this case, he uses his office to get out of trouble," Vargo told the Senators during his closing arguments.

Ravnsborg, who's been suspended from his duties since April 12 when the House adopted the articles of impeachment, did not provide comment as he exited the Capitol Tuesday evening. At his side, neither Butler nor Garber spoke to reporters as well.

Other state officials satisfied with outcome did weigh in.

Mark Vargo, Pennington County State's Attorney, questions Kevin Kinney of South Dakota Highway Patrol as the prosecution's first witness at the impeachment trial of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
Mark Vargo, Pennington County State's Attorney, questions Kevin Kinney of South Dakota Highway Patrol as the prosecution's first witness at the impeachment trial of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.

Rep. Will Mortenson, the Pierre Republican who's February 2021 resolution kicked off the impeachment process in the House, said Ravnsborg's removal sends a message that high offices require a high standard of honesty and morality.

"All along I felt that this case fit impeachment under the Constitution, and I was glad to see that the Senate, in one case by an overwhelming amount, agree," Mortenson told the Argus Leader. "It's probably a small consolation to the Boever family, but I do feel that some justice was done in South Dakota today."

Publicly calling for Ravnsborg's removal since August 2021, Gov. Kristi Noem in a statement posted on her social media accounts said the outcome means South Dakota can turn the page.

"After nearly two years, the dark cloud over the Attorney General's office has been lifted." Noem stated on Twitter. "It is now time to move on and begin to restore confidence in the office."

The Senate also voted to permanently disqualify Ravnsborg from "holding any office of trust or profit" in South Dakota, based on the outcome of both impeachment articles.

While the attorney general position is slated to be filled following the November election, the governor is entitled to appoint an interim replacement for Ravnsborg, though the office is not saying what her intentions are.

Since April, Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan has been leading the office.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg impeached by Senate