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Impeached Ravnsborg seeks vindication by SD Senate in June trial after 11th-hour appeal to legislators fails

After he was impeached Tuesday, April 12, Jason Ravnsborg issued a statement believing he’ll be “vindicated” in a Senate trial set to begin June 21.

Republican Jason Ravnsborg speaks after winning the South Dakota Attorney General race during the Republican Election Party at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown in Sioux Falls in this 2018 file photo.
Republican Jason Ravnsborg speaks after winning the South Dakota Attorney General race during the Republican Election Party at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown in Sioux Falls in this 2018 file photo.
Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic
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PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Attorney General will face an impeachment trial before the state’s Senate in June, legislative leaders announced Wednesday, something Jason Ravnsborg believes will clear him from wrongdoing.

Just one day after the conclusion of a special session of the South Dakota House of Representatives, when lawmakers impeached Ravnsborg for two separate articles of crimes and malfeasance in office, Senate leaders are already gearing up for an impeachment trial.

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Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck

The Senate will meet June 21 for the first gathering of a two-day trial, according to a calendar item published by the South Dakota Legislative Research Council. On Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, told the Argus Leader that the late-June dates were one of the earliest opportunities senators could gather in Pierre.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, no agenda or calendar items were added to the Legislature’s website, but the Legislative Research Council told the Mitchell Republic that documents regarding the trial should become publicly available by the end of the day.

Schoenbeck did not immediately return a call seeking more information regarding the trial.

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Before the trial was scheduled, Ravnsborg — who has refused to resign after being called upon to do so by Gov. Kristi Noem, the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police, the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association, the South Dakota Police Chiefs’ Association and more — issued a statement in the hours following his impeachment Tuesday, indicating he believes the Senate will not remove him from office.

“The House of Representatives voted, and I respect the process, but I look forward to the Senate trial, where I believe I will be vindicated," Ravnsborg said Tuesday.

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Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, makes his final statement in favor of a resolution to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg during a South Dakota House of Representatives special session on April 12, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

His impeachment, the first of a constitutional officer in the history of South Dakota, stemmed from a Sep. 12, 2020, crash in which Ravnsborg, while driving outside his lane, struck and killed Joe Boever, a pedestrian walking along a highway at night.

Tuesday’s statement was his second in two days after he sent a late-night appeal to the members of the House of Representatives approximately 13 hours before their impeachment vote.

“Some have asked why I have not spoken out about the accident on September 13, 2020. I have remained largely quiet about this matter out of respect for the legal process and Mr. Boever’s family,” Ravnsborg wrote. “On numerous occasions, I’ve expressed my deep sympathy to the Boever family, both publicly and privately.”

Without pointing out that Ravnsborg listed the incorrect date, Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, told the House of Representatives during the impeachment hearing that Ravnsborg actually hadn’t apologized to Boever’s family.

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Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, speaks in favor of a resolution to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg during a South Dakota House of Representatives special session on April 12, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“I had a message dropped to me this morning from Mrs. [Jenny] Boever that the attorney general has never apologized to her,” Lesmeister said. “So, anybody who says he’s apologized, no he has not.”

In Ravnsborg’s letter to the House, which appeared to be in a draft form as it included stricken text, he cited Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that all citizens are innocent until proven guilty, before telling lawmakers he’s already served his sentence.

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“We have gone through the process and the price has been paid,” Ravnsborg wrote, referring to the nearly $5,000 he paid in fines and fees following his conviction of two traffic tickets as a result of striking Boever. He also cited the U.S. Constitution

Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, who introduced the articles of impeachment just hours before the special session convened, said in a speech to close proponent discussion that the potential removal of Ravnsborg from office would be taking away a privilege, not a right, to serve the citizens of the state.

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Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, speaks in favor of a resolution to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg during a South Dakota House of Representatives special session on April 12, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“These positions of public trust are a privilege not a right,” Mortenson said. “What we’re talking about today is not taking away Jason Ravnsborg’s rights.”

Rep. Nancy York, R-Watertown, expressed that she’d be using her last-ever vote as a representative to send the impeachment to trial.

“This is a very sad day for me. This will be the last time that I will push a vote button as a member of the SD House of Representatives,” said York, who is not running for re-election. “Earlier today, someone said sunlight is the best disinfectant in the world. I believe today’s the day we shed some sunlight on this case and on all the leaders of South Dakota.”

Per South Dakota’s Constitution, Ravnsborg is currently suspended from all duties relating to his office. He may only return to his office if he is acquitted by the Senate.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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