Tuesday, state senators removed South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office after he struck and killed pedestrian Joe Boever while driving.
After the accident in Sept. 2020, questions arose about Ravnsborg's conduct including a statement that he didn't immediately know he hit a person rather than a deer. A police investigation showed that Boever was walking on the shoulder of a highway when Ravnsborg struck him.
Throughout police interrogations, Ravnsborg maintained he did not know what he hit until Boever's body was found the next morning. But investigators told Ravnsborg that Boever's face went through his windshield. Boever's glasses were found inside Ravnsborg's car.
"Again, why would a man be walking down the road?" Ravnsborg asked North Dakota investigators in Sept. 2020. "I believe I'm on the road and — wham. My life changes."
A crash reconstruction found that Ravnsborg had all four tires on the shoulder of the road when he struck Boever.
Investigators told Ravnsborg that Boever's body ended up lying only a couple of feet from the edge of the road. A flashlight Boever carried was still on, even when investigators found it later, they said. Ravnsborg repeated many times that he never saw the body that night.
Before you keep reading ...
MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.
Ravnsborg also denied being distracted by his smartphone. But the investigators showed him data indicating he was on his phone looking at news articles and blog posts until about a minute before the crash.
"So, when we look at that, our concern is everything that we're seeing here is appearing that you were on your phone reading political stuff at the time," one investigator said in an interrogation.
"But I just wasn't," Ravnsborg replied. "I set it down."
Two days after the crash, Ravnsborg held an impromptu meeting with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation and a digital forensics expert about what kind of information can be recovered from cell phones.
That expert, Brent Gromer, who has since retired from the South Dakota DCI, says he was uncomfortable with the meeting.
"We were not supposed to be involved. We conflicted out of this investigation and contacted North Dakota to do the investigation. We were not supposed to have anything to do with it."
After the meeting, Gromer took notes on the meeting and passed them along to his supervisors. That meeting informed part of the basis for the second article of impeachment for malfeasance in office.
Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors for the crash. He pleaded no-contest to two of those in a criminal case stemming from the accident.
Impeached and removed
Attorney General Ravnsborg is the first statewide official to be impeached, removed from office and barred from holding a future office in the state.
The votes came at the end of the first day of Ravnsborg's impeachment trial at the Capitol in Pierre. Ravnsborg attended the proceedings but chose not to testify before the Senate.
The state House of Representatives impeached Ravnsborg earlier this year with two separate articles, leading into the Senate trial. The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 24-9 in favor of the first article of impeachment, relating to crimes that led to the death of Joe Boever. Senators voted 31-2 in favor of the second article, which was for malfeasance in office.
Republican Sen. Tim Johns voted against both articles of impeachment. He said the results do not set a good precedent.
"I think if you don't like the job they do, you vote them out," Johns said. "You don't use impeachment. I think that's supposed to be held for very egregious events. None of these — yeah, a man died. That's the tragedy. That's not a good enough reason to impeach."
Ravnsborg declined to comment to the press on Tuesday.
Joe Boever's family
Jenny Boever, Joe Boever's widow, also didn't comment.
Victor Nemec is a cousin to Joe Boever. He said he's pleased with the outcome and glad it's over.
"With me, there's not really any closure because my cousin is still gone," Nemec said. "But glad it swung our way and kind of gives me a little bit of hope for our state."
Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo was the lead prosecutor in the impeachment case for Ravnsborg's removal from office.
Vargo hopes the Senate vote means politicians can no longer use their position to get favor from law enforcement.
"I hope that it means some of the 'do-you-know-who-I-am?' 'I'm the attorney general,' using your position will be chilled," Vargo said. "My first boss made it very clear that if you were ever pulled over and if the law enforcement officer saw your badge, you were fired. It was just a given."
Republican Sen. Jim Bolin voted in favor of removal and disqualification. He hopes the Senate vote means no one is above the law.
"I think that more than anything else it means that we have a very high standard for elected officials and that everyone is subject to the same rules," Bolin said.
Gov. Kristi Noem gets to appoint a replacement attorney general to serve until January. The Republican Party is holding its convention this weekend, where it will choose a new nominee for the November election.
Copyright 2022 South Dakota Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit South Dakota Public Broadcasting.