PIERRE, S.D. (Reuters) – The South Dakota House of Representatives voted on Monday to halt impeachment proceedings against the state attorney general over his conduct in a fatal car crash last year while he still faces unresolved criminal charges from the accident.
The lawmakers voted 57-11 vote to suspend further impeachment action against the state’s top law enforcement official, Republican Jason Ravnsborg. The move marks a sharp turnaround after both Democratic and Republican politicians had called for his ouster.
The clamor reached its peak last month after state authorities took the extraordinary step of releasing video of police interrogations of the attorney general and other evidence from the Sept. 12 crash, in which his car struck and killed a man walking along a highway.
In the video, Ravnsborg told police he believed he had run into a deer, rather than a person, until he returned to the scene the following day to find the body of the victim, 55-year-old Joe Boever, lying in a roadside ditch.
Investigators suggested that Ravnsborg’s account lacked credibility, telling him under questioning that a broken pair of eyeglasses belonging to Boever were found in his car, indicating the victim’s face had gone through the windshield on impact.
Police also told Ravnsborg that Boever had been carrying a flashlight, which was still illuminated when they found it the next day, and that evidence showed Ravnsborg had driven onto the shoulder of the road where the victim was walking.
The video sparked immediate outrage. Governor Kristi Noem, a fellow Republican, demanded the resignation of Ravnsborg, who is charged with three misdemeanor offenses in the accident. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced an impeachment resolution in the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
But a state judge on Feb. 25 ordered the police interrogation video and other evidence sealed, ruling that its disclosure violated Ravnsborg’s due process rights.
The court order prompted legislative leaders to introduce amendments to the impeachment articles barring further House proceedings against Ravnsborg at least until the criminal case against him is resolved.
“The House’s action today will allow the legal system to proceed without further interference and with due process,” Ravnsborg said in a statement issued on Monday through his lawyer.
Ravnsborg, who has denied wrongdoing and refused to resign, is due to make his initial court appearance in the case on Friday.
(Reporting by Patrick Callaghan in Pierre, S.D.; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)