PIERRE, S.D. (Reuters) – Leaders of South Dakota’s legislature said on Tuesday they would push to suspend impeachment action against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg over his conduct in a fatal car crash until criminal charges lodged against him are resolved.
Calls for Ravnsborg’s ouster mounted 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 incident, in which his car struck and killed a man walking along a highway.
As shown 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, meaning 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’s car had driven onto the shoulder of the road where the victim was walking.
The video sparked immediate outrage. Governor Kristi Noem demanded the resignation of Ravnsborg, a fellow Republican facing three misdemeanor charges in the accident. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced an impeachment resolution in the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
But dynamics changed after a state judge last week ruled that public posting of investigative evidence violated Ravnsborg’s rights to a fair trial and ordered such material in the criminal probe sealed.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, House Speaker Spencer Gosch and other legislative leaders called for halting impeachment proceedings at least until “the courts have concluded their business” in the case.
“Our proceedings need to be fair and transparent,” Gosch said, adding that in light of last week’s court order, “we have some concerns on what our abilities are in a public proceeding.”
The suspension was expected to be adopted by a House committee as an amendment to the impeachment resolution on Wednesday.
The announcement came nearly six months after the deadly nighttime crash, which occurred near Highmore, as the attorney general was driving home to Pierre, the state capital, from a fundraiser. Highmore is about 50 miles east of Pierre.
Ravnsborg insisted he never saw anyone by the side of the road, never saw a light in the pitch dark, and was so startled by the collision that he was focused on pulling his car safely to the side of the road.
Ravnsborg also denied veering onto the shoulder of the road before the collision. He said he was setting the vehicle on cruise-control when the crash occurred and was not distracted with his cellphone or other devices.
Toxicology tests released by state authorities showed no evidence of impairment.
(Reporting by Patrick Callahan in Pierre and Kayla Gahagan in Rapid City, S.D.; Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)