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South Dakota Public Safety secretary: AG Ravnsborg should've been charged with felony manslaughter

Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price's comments came in a letter to the House Speaker, as Gov. Kristi Noem hands over "full investigation" to Legislature. Speaker Spencer Gosch says his chamber needs to deliberate on the next steps.

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In officer bodycam footage released by the Hughes County Sheriff's Department, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg is seen signing a citation for speeding in Pierre, S.D., on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021.
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PIERRE, S.D. — In a stunning rebuke, the chief public safety officer in Gov. Kristi Noem’s cabinet called on Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to resign, saying he’d believed prosecutors could’ve brought manslaughter charges for his role in the death of pedestrian Joe Boever nearly a year ago.

Craig Price, cabinet secretary for the Department of Public Safety, also said he virulently disagreed with the AG’s description of the events that took place on Sept. 12, 2020 west of Highmore, when Ravnsborg said he was unaware that he’d struck a human being along the shoulder.

“On behalf of all the law enforcement personnel involved in this investigation, I categorically reject Mr. Ravnsborg’s characterizations,” wrote Price, in a letter to Speaker of the South Dakota House Spencer Gosch.
Price went on to say that the Republican attorney general “should have been charged” with a second-degree, felony manslaughter charge rather than the three traffic citations an assistant state’s attorney brought against him last February.

The letter came in a Wednesday, Sept. 1 press release from Noem’s office that called upon Gosch to restart impeachment proceedings against Ravnsborg. Noem’s team also said the governor had “provided the full investigation file” to Gosch.

“The remarkable detail in this investigation will assist the House in its important work of considering whether to proceed with impeachment articles for the attorney general,” said Noem.

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Last week, Ravnsborg pleaded “no contest” to two misdemeanor charges for using his phone and crossing a white-line the night he struck and killed Boever. Ravnsborg was not using his phone at the time of the collision.

Leaders of the impeachment effort in February appeared to be in a restrained posture the morning after the file was handed over to the House speaker.

"Most people I've talked to want to get a chance to see what's in the file and look it over and see what makes the investigators and law enforcement so convinced of the need for the attorney general to step down or be impeached," said Rep. Will Mortenson , R-Pierre, who counted the victim, Boever, as a constituent and initially brought the impeachment resolution against Ravnsborg. "We're eager to go through the file."

A co-sponsor of the impeachment resolution, House Minority Leader Jamie Smith , D-Sioux Falls, told Forum News Service that all eight Democrats would likely support an impeachment of the AG, leaving at least 28 Republican members in the lower-chamber necessary to come on board to reach the necessary majority of members-elect.

"There's a lot of discussions going on in the background right now. The speaker was just given the file. There'll be different things happening, and I don't have a timeline," said Smith, by phone on Thursday, Sept. 2. "I think people are hungry for some sort of justice."

Gosch only responded by email to a request for an interview, acknowledging that he'd received the file from the governor, writing, "the House has to talk about the appropriate way forward."

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Other members who spoke with FNS on condition of anonymity expressed apprehensiveness about moving too quickly or without leadership's approval.

If the impeachment would move to a Senate trial, at least two-thirds the body would be required to remove Ravnsborg from office. The trial could commence during a special session of the Legislature, which could be called either by two-thirds of the lawmakers or the governor.

According to South Dakota's constitution , impeachment can be brought against a constitutional officer for "drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor in office."

Lawmakers are already scheduled to meet for a special session on Nov. 8 in Pierre to pass new districts. While a Legislative Research Council attorney told the executive board earlier this week that a session can only take up business outlined in the proclamation, one member told FNS there would be nothing to stop the lawmakers from gaveling out ... and then gaveling back in to take up impeachment.

This week also marked another brush with the law for Ravnsborg, as Hughes County officials released bodycam video of a sheriff's deputy citing the AG for speeding 57 mph along a roadway in Pierre with a posted 35-mph speed limit. If Ravnsborg pleads no contest, it'd be his third misdemeanor traffic violation in two months.

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