South Dakota official: Attorney general 'unfit' for office

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem's cabinet secretary who oversaw an investigation into the state's attorney general for a 2020 fatal car crash on Wednesday urged House lawmakers to bring impeachment charges against him, alleging in a letter that the attorney general was distracted, was untruthful during the investigation and previously traded “disparaging and offensive” text messages with his staff about other state officials.

Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price released the letter sent to House lawmakers Wednesday, stating that the investigation led him to conclude Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg is “unfit to hold the position as the chief law enforcement officer" of the state.

Price alleged that an examination of Ravnsborg's phone had turned up text messages between the Republican attorney general and his top aides that made “disparaging and offensive statements” about law enforcement officers, a U.S. senator, a supreme court justice and other state officials.

Price's letter did not divulge details about the messages besides one — sent to Ravnsborg from a political consultant — that stated, “Well, at least the guy was a Democrat” two days after the crash. No context around that text message was given.

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

House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican who is overseeing the House's impeachment investigation into Ravnsborg's conduct, called the pressure from Noem's office an attempt to “interfere” in an investigation that belonged to the House.

“It's disgusting and it's just a poor way to allow the process to run out,” Gosch said, adding that Noem's move was “very calculated.”

As a House committee has dug into the crash investigation to determine whether Ravnsborg may have committed an impeachable offense surrounding the crash, some lawmakers have questioned whether Noem and Price applied undue pressure on prosecutors as she pushed for Ravnsborg to be forced from his office.

Prosecutors last month told the impeachment investigation they were displeased by the governor's decision to release video of Ravnsborg being interviewed by detectives while he was still facing charges.

“Some members of the committee appear more interested in discovering why information was provided to the public as opposed to the facts of the investigation,” Price wrote in the letter.

Noem has called for the attorney general to resign and repeatedly pushed lawmakers to bring impeachment charges against him. Ravnsborg pled no contest to a pair of misdemeanors in the crash in August, but has cast it as a tragic accident.

But Price, who previously said he thought Ravnsborg should have faced manslaughter charges, said the investigation showed Joseph Boever, who was walking near a rural highway, “was killed because the attorney general had been distracted.”

Ravnsborg initially told a 911 dispatcher after the crash that he did not know what he hit and surmised that he hit an animal. He later told investigators that the last thing he remembered before the crash was turning off the radio and looking down at the speedometer.

Ravnsborg has insisted he did not realize he had killed Boever until he returned to the scene the next day and discovered his body.

The House impeachment committee is set to meet Thursday to decide how to wrap up its investigation. The committee has been tasked with making a recommendation to the rest of the House on whether Ravsnborg should face impeachment charges.

But Gosch said that Noem's move throws the committee's work into doubt.

“We have to have a serious conversation as to what we can do next or if we can even proceed as a legislative body in the impeachment process,” he said. “That's how bad this has become.”

House Democratic leader Rep. Jamie Smith, who has previously called for Ravnsborg's impeachment and is a part of the House investigation, said he would let the investigation process conclude before he decided to renew calls for Ravnsborg to step down or be impeached.

“Timing wise, it’s unfortunate,” he said of Price's letter. “It muddies the water.”