Of course, Jason Ravnsborg was impeached. He still managed to kill someone. –Mother Jones
On Tuesday, the South Dakota House of Representatives impeached the state’s Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for killing a 55-year-old pedestrian with his Ford Taurus in September 2020. Ravnsborg paid a small fine and did not He did not contest last year using his cellphone while driving and getting out of his lane before the crash, but he avoided jail time and more serious charges.
Ravnsborg’s impeachment intensified divisions within South Dakota’s GOP. Republican Governor Kristi Noem, who harbors national political ambitions, has repeatedly called on him to step down. Ravnsborg accused Noem of breaking the law by violating a cease and desist order not to discuss impeachment, and he previously had floated investigating Noem for using his state office to help his daughter. The impeachment is a notable development for the dozens invested in Ravnsborg’s political future, but it only underscores the grim reality of his case: as a politician, he can pay a high price. As a driver, he faced few consequences for years of bad behavior.
Ravnsborg Told the dispatcher the night of the accident that whatever he hit “was in the middle of the road”, and that he had no idea what it was. He later said he thought he hit a deer, but found no sign of it and did not encounter Joe Boever’s body until the next morning when he went to return the car the sheriff had lent him.
But investigators learned that Ravnsborg’s vehicle was solidly on the right shoulder of the dual carriageway, traveling over 60 miles per hour, at the time of the accident. Boever, the victim, was walking along the road with a flashlight. Ravnsborg shouldn’t have had much confusion about his position on the road – he had crossed the rumble strip separating the lane from the shoulder. It shouldn’t have been hard to miss Boever’s body either – his flashlight had been on all night.
When he was questioned by investigators from the North Dakota Bureau of Investigation (who were brought in to avoid a conflict of interest), other cracks began to appear in his story. For one thing, humans and deer aren’t hard to tell apart. There is literally an expression to describe what deer look like in the path of a vehicle.
“His face was in your windshield, Jason, think about that,” an investigator told him. Boever’s glasses had even been found in the passenger seat of Ravnsborg.
And Ravnsborg’s account seemed to reinforce investigators’ doubts. In his interview with police, the AG said that as he was walking along the road after the accident, he turned “and saw it” and then quickly backed up. At another point, Ravnsborg said he didn’t see what he hit “until impact”, which is different from not seeing anything at all. Speak Associated press“Investigators have determined that Ravnsborg would have walked right past Boever’s body and the flashlight Boever was carrying as Ravnsborg looked around the scene on the night of the accident.”
Equally perplexing was the conduct of the local sheriff, who responded to the 911 call, then let the attorney general borrow his car and return it the next day. (In his first public statement after the crash, Ravnsborg was careful to note that he had filled the tank before returning it to the sheriff.) The sheriff accepted the deer’s story and told investigators he had noticed the glow of the lamp Boever’s pocket watch but hadn’t looked to see what it was.
Prosecutors ultimately determined that Ravnsborg’s phone was locked at the time of the crash. But they also determined that he had used it moments before, and that he wasn’t just checking out Waze; he was reading press articles, including one About Hunter Biden from the right-wing JustTheNews.com website.
In a last chance letter to lawmakers on Monday, Ravnsborg defended himself with the same care and attention to detail that he previously extended certification of the vote of the electoral college. He wrote that Article V of the Constitution guarantees him the right to due process, which is not the case. Article V sets out the process by which the Constitution may be amended by the states; the fifth Amendment assured him of due process, which he already received when he did not contest the two misdemeanor counts last year. It’s a strange mistake that the state’s top attorney makes in a memo in which he pleads to continue serving as the state’s top attorney, and it’s not the only one. The document is riddled with typos, and at one point includes a line of argument that he started and then stopped:
“Prosecutors have admitted that there was no cell phone use at the time of the crash,” he wrote. “Therefore, the accusation does not appear to apply to the impeachment because who among you has never used your mobile phone while driving? Cell phone use has been regulated
is not fair but unrelated to the accident and not the basis for an impeachment.
The strikeout was his. I don’t even know how you do that.
In case neither of these points resonates, Ravnsborg rolled out an argument previously used by Donald Trump’s lawyers in Trump’s first impeachment trial. “Your decision could void an election,” Ravnsborg wrote.
Ravnsborg, of course, is not the only politician to have killed someone with his car, nor the first to escape responsibility. Bill Janklow, a predecessor as South Dakota attorney general, killed a motorcyclist after running a stop sign in 2003 while serving in Congress, resulting in his resignation and a $100 prison sentence days. Ted Kennedy killed a woman, then fled as she drowned while serving in the Senate, then continued to serve in the Senate without consequences for another three decades.
The years-long Ravnsborg saga was also a reminder of how certain types of powerful people coddle other types of powerful people. Many Americans live in fear of a traffic stop. The real power in American life is when the sheriff lends you his car after you mysteriously destroy yours. It resides in the exculpatory style of the passive voice. “The accident…tragically involved a pedestrian,” Ravnsborg wrote days after the crash. The pedestrian’s implication was that he died. Before Ravnsborg made a deal, the Sioux Falls Chief of Argus reported that his lawyer was preparing to argue that the accident was in fact Boever’s fault.
But Ravnsborg’s last letter, as damning as it is, contains some truth: he is committing the faux pas to instruct his colleagues to treat a traffic fatality caused by reckless inattention with the kind of cavalry with which, well, policy makers typically treat such traffic fatalities. Ravnsborg is and continues to be a bad driver; He had another speeding ticket for driving 57 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone on August 22, just three days before the judge was due to rule on the case stemming from the fatal crash. (This time he Told the state trooper, he wasn’t carrying his license.) But he’s the kind of bad driver that policymakers, regulators, and cops have decided on a structural level to accommodate, whatever PSAs they fund or the laws they passed Can say.
As journalist Jessie Singer explains in her new book, There is no accident, when it comes to making America’s roads safer, the United States is deeply unserious in almost every way, seemingly content to maintain conditions in which about 40,000 deaths a year are considered routine. Until very recently, the US Department of Transportation did not require automotive design to consider pedestrian safety. National Road Safety Administration didn’t care for a full year, new Teslas literally allowed drivers to play computer games while the vehicle was moving. Traffic control, when it exists, exists to generate revenue and therefore has little interest in to prevent people from driving dangerously. On a main thoroughfare near my apartment, people get run over again and again at the same poorly designed intersection and press conferences by elected officials have never gotten anyone to redesign it. He is basically the open season on cyclists.
In other words, the laws, regulations and systems are put in place to keep these bad drivers behind the wheel and position them to do the maximum damage when they get it wrong. That’s why, when this is all over, Jason Ravnsborg might not have a job, but he’ll still have his license.