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Crime-and-courts
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After four months, still no decision on whether Attorney General Ravnsborg will be charged in fatal crash
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Four months after Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg hit and killed a pedestrian with his car, a prosecutor has yet to make a charging decision or have any communication with the media and public about the status of the case.

The fact that the decision is taking more than a third of a year has upset the family of victim Joe Boever and Gov. Kristi Noem.

"I share South Dakotans' frustration about the amount of time this has taken. To have more than 100 days go by without resolution on this is a disservice to the victim's family,” Noem told the Argus Leader last month.

“Obviously, given that the days have continued to tick by, her frustration has not decreased,” spokesman Ian Fury said Wednesday.

“I’m just appalled at the whole thing,” said Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin. “It does seem like justice delayed is justice denied for everyone, for the family of the victim and for the alleged perpetrator because he’s left hanging out there.”

Nemec says he feels the investigation and charging decision would have proceeded differently if the driver was an average citizen. 

“It’s 122 days, I counted, and I never thought it would go this long, never dreamed that it would go this long,” Nemec said Tuesday. “Had my cousin Joe been run over by an average citizen, they probably be sitting in jail or out on bail right now awaiting trial.

“I hate to say this about my state but had Joe been run over by some Native American, same circumstances, that Native American would be doing 10-20 (years) in the state penitentiary right now,” he added.

Tony Mangan, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said troopers have provided all evidence to the prosecutor and he’s not aware of any additional requests.

Emily Sovell, deputy Hyde County state’s attorney, will decide whether Ravnsborg committed any crime. Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo and two other prosecutors helped her analyze evidence.

Minnehaha County prosecutor Crystal Johnson did not return messages while Vargo and Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore declined to comment, saying the media should speak with Sovell, who has not returned messages from the Journal or other outlets asking for an update on the case.

Nemec has been in contact with Sovell but not about her investigation into the crash. He said his late parents have farm land in a bank trust and Sovell is the lawyer for the trust. He said Sovell called him last month to discuss the siblings purchasing some of the land, and she made a comment about how she was excited for 2020 to end.

“I suppose the Joe Boever deal just adds to the craziness,” Nemec said he told Sovell. ”I didn’t get a response from her.”

Timeline

Ravnsborg called 911 around 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 12 to say he hit something while on U.S. Highway 14 near Highmore, according to the transcript. He said he had no idea what he hit but later agreed it might have been a deer after the dispatcher raised that possibility.

The attorney general was distracted when he entered the north shoulder and hit Boever, who was walking with a flashlight, according to the accident report and DPS Secretary Craig Price. How exactly Ravnsborg was distracted is still under investigation, the report and Price said in November.

Ravnsborg said in a Sept. 14 statement that he hadn't been drinking and thought he hit “a large animal." He said he didn't realize he hit and killed a person until he returned to the scene the next morning and found a body “just off the roadway."

Ravnsborg said he found Boever after stopping to see if he could find a dead deer when he was on his way to return the personal vehicle that the Hyde County Sheriff let him borrow to drive home to Pierre the night before. Ravnsborg said he drove to the sheriff’s nearby home to report the body instead of calling 911.

Price said on Sept. 15 that he would “release the investigative report as soon as it is complete."

However, DPS only released four elements, not a complete investigative report.

The agency shared toxicology reports and a photograph of Jason Ravnsborg's car, information that is not usually available through a public records request. It also shared the crash report, which is always a public record, and Ravnsborg's 911 call from Sept. 12. 911 calls are sometimes public records.

DPS denied a public records request asking for 911 calls the sheriff or anyone else made about the crash on Sept. 12 and 13.

Vargo said Dec. 9 that he and the other two prosecutors were nearly done with their task of providing input to Sovell. He said he couldn't speak to how long it will take Sovell to make her charging decision but Johnson told the Argus Leader that there would hopefully be a decision before Christmas.

“I think the governor could apply a little heat, just to speed the process up,” Nemec said, adding that he doesn’t “have a ton of faith in the system right now.”

“My gut feeling is there will eventually be a pre-bargained (deal) and the attorney general will plead guilty to some minor traffic offense, crossing the white line, something like that,” he said. ​

A spokesman for Ravnsborg did not immediately return a message asking how he feels about the delay in the charging decision. 


Johnson votes to not impeach President Trump

Rep. Dusty Johnson was one of 197 Republican House members who voted Wednesday not to impeach President Donald Trump.

Johnson, a Republican, released the statement as the House opened its proceedings to impeach President Trump for a second time exactly a week after his supporters stormed the Capitol to protest his election defeat.

"Last Wednesday was a tragic event in our country‘s history. Those who turned to violence must be held accountable for their actions, although political leaders deserve some blame, as well. That was true as violence rocked our cities last summer, and it is just as true now.

"But a snap impeachment is the wrong approach. There is only one week remaining in the president’s term. It is an act sure to divide our country, and Democratic leaders are making a mistake pursuing it.

"I’ll be voting against impeaching President Trump."

The House voted 232 to 197 to impeach Trump. Ten Republicans — including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP leader — voted to impeach President Donald Trump Wednesday over the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. The GOP votes were in sharp contrast to the unanimous support for Trump among House Republicans when he was impeached by Democrats in December 2019.

Cheney was the only member of her party's leadership to support impeachment, which was opposed by Johnson and 196 other Republicans.

"There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” said Cheney, whose father, Dick Cheney, served as vice president under George W. Bush. The younger Cheney has been more critical of Trump than other GOP leaders, but her announcement hours before Wednesday's vote nonetheless shook Congress.

Trump “summoned” the mob that attacked the Capitol, “assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,'' Cheney said, adding, “Everything that followed was his doing.” Trump could have immediately intervened to stop his supporters from rioting but did not, she noted. The riot resulted in five deaths, including that of a Capitol police officer.

Nine other House Republicans also supported impeachment: Reps. John Katko of New York; Adam Kinzinger of Illinois; Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio; Fred Upton and Peter Meijer of Michigan; Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse of Washington state; Tom Rice of South Carolina; and David Valadao of California.

Rice's vote may have been the most surprising. His coastal district strongly backed Trump in the election and he voted last week to object to certification of electoral votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania. "I have backed this president through thick and thin for four years. I've campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But this utter failure is inexcusable,'' Rice said in a statement after the vote.

While he's not sure if Trump's Jan. 6 speech amounted to incitement of a riot, “any reasonable person could see the potential for violence,” Rice said. "It is only by the grace of God and the blood of the Capitol Police that the death toll was not much, much higher.”


State-and-regional
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Health secretary assures second COVID-19 doses will be available to South Dakotans
  • Updated

The 39,954 South Dakotans who received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will still get their second dose despite federal guidance to release second doses that were in reserves to those who still haven't had their first dose, Department of Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon said in a press call Wednesday.

Operation Warp Speed and the Department of Health and Human Services have indicated they plan to release all available doses immediately to speed up vaccinations nationwide, but Malsam-Rysdon said the DOH is waiting for final details about “exactly what that will look like.”

“I can assure that if this happens and when this happens, we are prepared and ready to mobilize very quickly,” she said, adding that the state expects to receive 11,100 doses next week and will be “substantially” through Phase 1C by then before moving to Phase 1D.

Phase 1D’s population is “quite large,” Malsam-Rysdon said, so the DOH will focus initially on those 80 years and older and those at the highest risk of poor health outcomes if they contract COVID-19. DOH data has shown more than 265,000 people are in Phase 1D.

An updated graphic from the DOH shows they expect Phase 1D to begin Monday, Jan. 18. After older residents and those with pre-existing conditions are vaccinated, the state will move to educators and other school and college staff and before vaccinating funeral service workers, who may see vaccines by February and March.

Phase 1E, which includes public safety personnel and critical infrastructure workers, may see vaccines beginning in April, the DOH estimates. Those in Phase 2, which includes adults who have not yet been vaccinated, will start receiving COVID-19 shots in May, according to the DOH.

The recommendation for people to receive both doses of vaccine has not changed, Malsam-Rysdon said, noting the DOH anticipates that they will still get two doses in a timely fashion. The DOH reports 7,998 South Dakotans have completed their COVID-19 vaccine two-dose series.

The DOH is working to understand the supply chain and to get assurance from HHS that second doses will be available to people because “that is a very important aspect of this operation,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

State epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said the DOH is working to identify COVID-19 variants that originate in both the UK and South Africa and that as of Monday, a UK variant had been seen in 10 states including Minnesota but not South Dakota.

Malsam-Rysdon also said any COVID-19 cases identified in people visiting Pierre or working temporarily there during the legislative session would not be counted as COVID-19 cases in Hughes County but in their resident county.

The DOH and Board of Administration helped the Legislative Research Council come up with COVID-19 precautions, including the policy that requires masks in the Senate and encourages them in the House.


Washington
AP
Trump impeached after siege
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House for a historic second time Wednesday, charged with "incitement of insurrection" over the deadly mob siege of the Capitol in a swift and stunning collapse of his final days in office.

With the Capitol secured by armed National Guard troops inside and out, the House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump. The proceedings moved at lightning speed, with lawmakers voting just one week after violent pro-Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol, egged on by the president's calls for them to "fight like hell" against the election results.

Ten Republicans fled Trump, joining Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable and warned ominously of a "clear and present danger" if Congress should leave him unchecked before Democrat Joe Biden's inauguration Jan. 20.

Trump is the only U.S. president to be twice impeached. It was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in modern times, more so than against Bill Clinton in 1998.

The Capitol insurrection stunned and angered lawmakers, who were sent scrambling for safety as the mob descended, and it revealed the fragility of the nation's history of peaceful transfers of power. The riot also forced a reckoning among some Republicans, who have stood by Trump throughout his presidency and largely allowed him to spread false attacks against the integrity of the 2020 election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Bible, imploring lawmakers to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign "and domestic."

She said of Trump: "He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."

Holed up at the White House, watching the proceedings on TV, Trump later released a video statement in which he made no mention at all of the impeachment but appealed to his supporters to refrain from any further violence or disruption of Biden's inauguration.

"Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week," he said, his first condemnation of the attack. He appealed for unity "to move forward" and said, "Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. ... No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement."

Trump was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 acquit. He is the first president to be impeached twice. None has been convicted by the Senate, but Republicans said Wednesday that could change in the rapidly shifting political environment as officeholders, donors, big business and others peel away from the defeated president.

Biden said in a statement after the vote that it was his hope the Senate leadership "will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation."

The soonest Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would start an impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Trump is already set to leave the White House, McConnell's office said. The legislation is also intended to prevent Trump from ever running again.

McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and considers the Democrats' impeachment drive an opportunity to reduce the divisive, chaotic president's hold on the GOP, a Republican strategist told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

McConnell told major donors over the weekend that he was through with Trump, said the strategist, who demanded anonymity to describe McConnell's conversations.

In a note to colleagues Wednesday, McConnell said he had "not made a final decision on how I will vote."

Unlike his first time, Trump faces this impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority.

Even Trump ally Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, shifted his position and said Wednesday the president bears responsibility for the horrifying day at the Capitol.

In making a case for the "high crimes and misdemeanors" demanded in the Constitution, the four-page impeachment resolution approved Wednesday relies on Trump's own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden's election victory, including at a rally near the White House on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

A Capitol Police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies. The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes that was the last step in finalizing Biden's victory.

Ten Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, voted to impeach Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.

Cheney, whose father is the former Republican vice president, said of Trump's actions summoning the mob that "there has never been a greater betrayal by a President" of his office.

Trump was said to be livid with perceived disloyalty from McConnell and Cheney.

With the team around Trump hollowed out and his Twitter account silenced by the social media company, the president was deeply frustrated that he could not hit back, according to White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing who weren't authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

From the White House, Trump leaned on Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to push Republican senators to resist, while chief of staff Mark Meadows called some of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

The president's sturdy popularity with the GOP lawmakers' constituents still had some sway, and most House Republicans voted not to impeach.

Security was exceptionally tight at the Capitol, with tall fences around the complex. Metal-detector screenings were required for lawmakers entering the House chamber, where a week earlier lawmakers huddled inside as police, guns drawn, barricaded the door from rioters.

"We are debating this historic measure at a crime scene," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

During the debate, some Republicans repeated the falsehoods spread by Trump about the election and argued that the president has been treated unfairly by Democrats from the day he took office.

Other Republicans argued the impeachment was a rushed sham and complained about a double standard applied to his supporters but not to the liberal left. Some simply appealed for the nation to move on.

Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, "Every movement has a lunatic fringe."

Conviction and removal of Trump would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which will be evenly divided. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to "go away as soon as possible."


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