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South Dakota Senate convicts and removes state attorney general in impeachment trial after he killed pedestrian in 2020

By Ashley Killough, CNN

Updated: Wed, 22 Jun 2022 12:04:11 GMT

Source: CNN

The South Dakota state Senate on Tuesday voted to convict and remove state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office on two articles of impeachment after he struck and killed a pedestrian in September 2020, making Ravnsborg the first elected official to be impeached and removed in the state's history.

The Senate needed approval from two-thirds of the Republican-controlled, 35-member chamber to convict and remove Ravnsborg. The vote was 24-9 in favor of conviction and removal on the first article, committing a crime that caused the death of a person. The vote was 31-2 on the second article, malfeasance in office.

The Senate also voted to disqualify him from "holding any office of trust or profit under the state" in the future.

In a daylong trial on Tuesday -- the first impeachment trial in the state's history -- prosecutors sought to paint Ravnsborg as a distracted driver who lied to try and cover up his knowledge of striking Joe Boever on September 12, 2020. Ravnsborg called 911 after the incident that night and said he had "no idea" what smashed his front windshield, saying it could have been a deer.

A local sheriff soon arrived at the scene and neither of the two men reported seeing a human body. Ravnsborg returned the next morning with an aide and found human remains at the scene, then drove to the sheriff to report the body.

"Wherever his attention was, it was not on the road," prosecuting attorney Mark Vargo said during the trial on Tuesday.

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that Ravnsborg would go on to tell several lies, including how often he was using his cell phone on the drive that night, how fast he was driving, where he was when he hit Boever (he initially said he was still in the driving lane but it was later determined he was in the shoulder), and whether he saw the body on the night of the incident.

"I don't think I really need to cite chapter and verse to a bunch of people from South Dakota about integrity and honesty -- and why we don't lie in public life," Vargo said in his closing arguments.

Ravnsborg was present for the hearing but did not testify. Prosecutors brought forward five witnesses, while the defense team put forth no witnesses.

CNN has reached out to Ravnsborg for comment.

In April, the GOP-controlled state House voted to impeach Ravnsborg on two counts: committing crimes that caused the death of a person and malfeasance in office.

Ravnsborg pleaded no contest last year to two misdemeanors related to the crash. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine for each of the misdemeanors -- one count of operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device and one count of lane driving. A third misdemeanor charge was dismissed. Ravnsborg did not get jail time.

Ravnsborg also reached a settlement with the victim's family.

His main defense attorney, Michael Butler, sought to prove throughout the trial that Ravnsborg was not on his phone in the final seconds before the collision and that he cooperated with law enforcement at every step.

He urged the Senate to acquit Ravnsborg, saying impeachment warrants a "serious offense," not a traffic misdemeanor. "The Senate should not be reduced to a traffic court," he said, adding grounds for removal should be considered "egregious, unlawful, and evil."

"What you do here today does make history in one form or another," Butler said at the end of his remarks. He acknowledged that Ravnsborg has already lost the confidence of law enforcement and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, and that he's not running for reelection. "He is not seeking re-election, but he does seek to vindicate himself."


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