SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — On Tuesday the South Dakota Senate voted to remove Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office, upholding the articles of impeachment voted upon by the House, and also moving to bar him from holding further office.
This involuntary removal from office, a first in South Dakota history, comes more than a year after three South Dakota law enforcement organizations — the Fraternal Order of Police, the Sheriff’s Association and the Police Chief’s Association — called on Ravnsborg to resign from office.
KELOLAND News spoke with Tim Walburg, President of the Sheriff’s Association and Mike Walsh, State Lodge President of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) about the impeachment and the events that led up to it.
Walburg says the criminal justice process was followed in South Dakota following the crash in which Ravnsborg killed Joe Boever. He says the call for resignation resulted due to the standards of the office of the Attorney General.
“The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the state. We’re all held to those high standards of making sure that we’re doing the right thing,” Walburg said. He wouldn’t explicitly say that Ravnsborg was unable to meet those standards, but again specified that he felt the due process was given in this case.
Asked if the crash and subsequent investigation impacted Ravnsborg’s ability to interact with law enforcement in the role of Attorney General, Walburg chose his words carefully.
“I believe that as the investigation happened and information related to the investigation came out, that could impact decisions that he would make as the Attorney General,” Walburg said.
Walsh, a former sheriff’s deputy, spoke more bluntly about this topic.
“The Attorney General’s office is the organization that local law enforcement look to for guidance on many state statutes — when you’ve lost confidence in that office, and to be more specific lost confidence in the Attorney General himself, it makes it a struggle to seek out that guidance,” Walsh said.
This loss of confidence was key to the FOP’s decision to call for Ravnsborg’s resignation.
“We know that law enforcement across the state was losing confidence in the Attorney General’s Office,” Walsh said, “and quite honestly, the public across the state was losing confidence in law enforcement because of the perception that he wasn’t being charged because he was the Attorney General.”
Asked if he thought justice was properly served in this case, Walsh gave his own personal opinion as a former cop, not as the head of the FOP.
“Without having seen all the evidence — I’m not so sure that greater chargers could not have been pursued,” Walsh said. “The last people I’m going to second guess are the investigators — but for me, I would have taken a shot at greater charges.”
Elaborating on this feeling, Walsh mentioned obstruction and dishonesty on the part of Ravnsborg while saying he may have done things differently if he’d been in charge of the investigation.
Despite this, Walsh pushed back on the notion that Ravnsborg got off easy due to his position, though he acknowledged that this factor may have still had an impact. “That could be part of it,” he said but instead outlined a different reason that Ravnsborg’s position may have complicated the investigation.
“One of the roles of the Attorney General is to interpret statutes, and to give guidance on how to apply those statutes,” said Walsh. With Ravnsborg being unable to provide that interpretation, for obvious reasons, that may have increased the uncertainty of officials making decisions.
Walsh argued that those in charge of the investigation may have been hamstrung from the start, because the person they rely on to interpret things, such as the definition of ‘reckless’, was the person whom they were investigating.
Despite lingering questions about what could have been done, Walsh says he believes that impeachment, at least as far as due process is concerned, is an acceptable outcome as far as the FOP is concerned.
“I understand it was frustrating. I’m not in the position to say whether he could have been charged with something more or not. That’s not for me to say,” said Walsh. “With that being said — if the former Attorney General was going to refuse to take responsibility, of course, the South Dakota FOP is pleased with [impeachment].”
Overall, Walsh thinks that the public trust in law enforcement will return to pre-Ravnsborg levels. The larger challenge may be regaining of trust in the Attorney General’s Office by law enforcement. For whoever the next Attorney General winds up being, Walsh says transparency will need to be a priority to restore that confidence.