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House Condemns Governor Noem’s Actions During Ongoing Investigation Of A.G Jason Ravnsborg
Full Addendum Of The House Select Committee on Investigation


The Select Committee includes the following addendum to address the Executive Branch’s interference in the criminal proceedings and the impeachment process.

The Executive Branch made promises that the criminal investigation would be transparent and released to the public. The Highway Patrol thereafter asked Supervisory BCI Agent Arnie Rummel for permission to disseminate the initial crash report. Secretary Price testified to the Select Committee he was not aware of another case in which the Department of Public Safety released death investigation information before a state's attorney filed charges. The Highway Patrol, however, informed Supervisory BCI Agent Arnie Rummel that such reports were routinely disseminated to the public in seeking permission to disclose this case’s initial crash report. Supervisory BCI Agent Rummel did not want the initial crash report disclosed, but in being told they routinely released such reports, asked the Highway Patrol to make the report accurate before its disclosure. Specifically, Supervisory BCI Agent Arnie Rummel asked that the report not state Attorney General Ravnsborg was distracted by his cell phone, since the data was not yet extracted from his cell phones to make that determination.

Secretary Price, in consultation with legal counsel and the Governor, authorized the posting of the initial crash report on the South Dakota Public Safety website. At the time the crash report was posted, he considered a portion of the investigation complete although additional work still needed to be completed. The video recording of the interrogation of Attorney General Ravnsborg was released after the Hyde County State’s Attorney decided to move forward with misdemeanors charges but before the arraignment. State’s Attorney Emily Sovell objected to the release of the video interviews and other investigative information. State’s Attorney Sovell was also not in favor of the Governor holding press conferences or any other public dissemination of the investigation. Upon learning of a planned press conference and planned dissemination of confidential investigative material, State’s Attorney Sovell emailed Secretary Price and the investigators stating her concerns and requested such materials not be released. State’s Attorney Sovell also emailed Secretary Price indicating that due to undue pressure Secretary Price was attempting to place on her, she would not be including Secretary Price in further discussions of the case. State’s Attorney Sovell did not want any perception that political pressures or anything else from the outside was affecting her decisions in the case.

While the Department of Public Safety released the initial crash report, containing incomplete information, the Department did not later release the more comprehensive crash report or its supplements after they were completed.

The Highway Patrol also asked Supervisory BCI Agent Rummel for permission to make Attorney General Ravnsborg’s vehicle open for public inspection. Supervisory BCI Agent Rummel objected to this request. The Highway Patrol also asked the BCI’s information be released to the Highway Patrol. Supervisory BCI Agent Rummel denied that request and sent BCI’s information to the State’s Attorney, as is normal protocol.

After the misdemeanor charges were filed, Secretary Price had discussions with the prosecutors indicating his displeasure and disagreement as to what was charged. Secretary Price indicated that he disagreed with State’s Attorney Sovell not charging second degree manslaughter.

Secretary Price was advised by counsel not to disclose to the Select Committee the content of his discussions with the Governor and whether the release of the investigatory information was at the Governor’s direction. Secretary Price testified that he had been advised by legal counsel not to talk about specific privileged conversations that he had with the Governor.

Attorney General Ravnsborg’s criminal defense counsel argued that Governor Noem made an unprecedented, unusual, and early release of information regarding the criminal investigation. See Exhibit A, No. 69, Motion for Order Precluding Release of Criminal Investigation Information to Protect Defendant’s Due Process Rights dated February 25, 2021. On February 23, 2021, Governor Noem informed she was going to hold a press conference regarding Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and release information created during the criminal investigation process. Id. The Department of Public Safety released links on its website which contained the two video interviews with Attorney General Ravnsborg by the North Dakota BCI. Id. On February 25, 2021, Governor Noem held a press conference promising release of additional information on either February 25 or 26, 2021. Id.

On February 25, 2021, the Honorable John Brown issued an Order Precluding Disclosure of Criminal Investigation Information. See Exhibit A, No. 69. The Court ordered that the Department of Public Safety, law enforcement, or any member of state government, including Governor Kristi Noem, is precluded from producing any further criminal reports, interviews, test results, digital media, photographs, videos, statements, or anything whatsoever related to the matter to the public. The court further ordered that the links to the law enforcement video interviews should be removed by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety and any and all other State agencies having such links in order to prevent the public from having access to information which would constitute hearsay at a trial of the matter. A criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial is one of the bedrocks of the American judicial system. See e.g., State v. Weatherford, 416 N.W.2d 47, 50–51 (S.D. 1987) (“The right to a fair trial is a fundamental liberty secured by the Fourteenth Amendment.”). The Executive Branch’s efforts to share confidential information with the public and infringe upon this foundational right must be condemned.

Unfortunately, the Governor’s inappropriate involvement did not end at the conclusion of the criminal case. The following were published on the South Dakota Department of Public Safety website during this impeachment investigation (listed in Exhibit A under No. 67)

- September 1, 2021, letter to Speaker of the House from Craig Price, Secretary of South Dakota Department of Public Safety. Secretary Price states that Ravnsborg should have been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

On January 19, 2022, Governor Noem told the Associated Press that the South Dakota House Investigative Committee is “attacking the integrity of our law enforcement officers,” adding that it was an “inappropriate” and “tragic” use of the Committee’s attention.

On January 21 to 23, 2022, the Select Committee members were subjected to hundreds of telemarketing calls to their cell phones from the Ohio-based entity Grand Solutions, Inc. Angel Kane owns the entity and spokesperson Jonathon Petrea speaks on its behalf. It is apparent that these calls were meant to pressure members of the Select Committee to impeach the Attorney General. The telemarketing firm did not indicate who paid for these efforts during the call or at any point thereafter. A voicemail from the telemarketing company was received which suggests the Governor may be involved with those who funded the telemarketing campaign. The Governor’s Office has denied any such involvement. On January 24, 2022, a press release from Governor Noem was released attempting to pressure House lawmakers weighing impeachment charges against the Attorney General and to release the investigative file on the 2020 fatal car crash.

On March 9, 2022, a press release from the Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price was released urging the Committee to consider the facts in the impeachment investigation and “to consider the indisputable conclusions by the crash reconstruction experts”. Exhibit A, No. 73. On March 9, 2022, Secretary Price released to the press a three-page letter to Speaker Gosch detailing why he believes Ravnsborg is “unfit to hold the position as the chief law enforcement officer for the state of South Dakota.” Secretary Price also released to the press Trooper John Berndt’s supplemental report (Quadrants Described) dated March 9, 2022.

On March 9, 2022, Governor Noem sent a series of tweets questioning why Ravnsborg received a closed- door hearing with members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations, telling readers “REMINDER: the House is still in the middle of impeachment proceedings.” “Let me get this straight. . . ,” Noem wrote, “they don’t have time to conclude their impeachment process, but they have time for secret closed-door meetings to give Ravnsborg $1.5 million with no accountability?”

On March 12, 2022, Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions, an organization touting itself as a non-profit organized to carry forward the Governor's agenda, began running billboard advertisements targeting four members of the House Select Committee on Investigation. The ads named the following Committee Members: Representatives Steven Haugaard, Jamie Smith, Jon Hansen and Spencer Gosch, the Speaker of the House serving as chairman of the committee. The signs accuse the Committee Members of obstructing the impeachment process: “What is [Committee Member] trying to hide??? Impeach the Attorney General Now!!!” Two of the Committee Members, Representatives Haugaard and Smith, are challenging Governor Noem in her re-election campaign.

On March 14, 2022, a fifth lawmaker, Representative Scott Odenbach, was added to the list of legislators being specifically named in the billboards. Representative Odenbach responded that he believes the Governor is eager to appoint another Attorney General before she must face the Government Accountability Board, referring to an investigatory panel of retired judges who have pending investigations open into abuse of power complaints levied against Governor Noem. The Governor’s Office denies being behind the billboard ads or Dakota Institute. During March of 2022, Governor Noem and Secretary Price made public statements that Ravnsborg is unfit to be the Attorney General.

On March 17, 2022, the House Select Committee on Impeachment issued a cease and desist letter to Governor Noem and the South Dakota Executive Branch. The Committee letter stated that the South Dakota Constitution places the sole power of impeachment with the House of Representatives and requires the Senate to try an impeachment. The Committee letter further stated that the Executive Branch is attempting to taint the Senator jury pool with irrelevant and confidential information. The letter stated that these efforts have been continuous and aimed at bringing irrelevant information to the public and undue pressure on the Select Committee Members. The letter further stated these efforts are both harmful and unwelcome and subject the outcome to judicial scrutiny. As previous requests to refrain from such conduct have gone unheeded, the Select Committee requested the Executive Branch cease and desist all further disclosures of the investigative file to the public and all further attempts to pressure and influence the Select Committee Members and the House of Representatives. See Exhibit A, No. 74.

The South Dakota Constitution clearly provides that an impeachment of a state official is purely a legislative proceeding. Article XVI of the South Dakota Constitution empowers the Legislature with the authority to impeach and try state officers. Section 1 places “the sole power of impeachment” with the House of Representatives. Section 2 requires the Senate to try an impeachment, with the Senators sitting as the jury under oath “to do justice according to law and evidence.” The Constitution does not include a role for the Executive Branch in impeachment proceedings. Despite the Constitution’s clear authority granted to the Legislature, the Executive Branch has continued to inappropriately attempt to influence legislators throughout the impeachment process.

Criminal prosecutors are granted prosecutorial discretion when making charging decisions. In order to protect this discretion and prevent intimidation and harassment, prosecutors are granted absolute immunity for charging decisions. Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 492–94 (1991). Members of the House of Representatives should similarly be free from harassment and intimidation during the impeachment process. The Representatives are sitting in the role of prosecutors – choosing to decide whether a state official should be impeached and then tried by the Senate. See Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 492–94 (1991).

Instead of making her perspective known and then allowing the House of Representatives to investigate, Governor Noem and the Executive Branch have continued to insert themselves into the impeachment process. From tweets regarding specific legislators5, to press conferences calling for the Attorney General’s impeachment, to the Governor’s failure to condemn the phone calls and billboards improperly seeking to influence members of the Select Committee, Governor Noem has continued to improperly influence the impeachment process. Most recently, Secretary Price released a letter summarizing and citing text messages from the investigative file – the same investigative file he previously had warned legislators was confidential. These tactics by the Executive Branch ultimately resulted in a cease and desist letter delivered to the Governor.

The Select Committee on Impeachment unequivocally condemns Governor Noem’s attempts to influence this Committee. The Select Committee also notes that the question of impeachment is now in front of the entire House of Representatives. It cautions Governor Noem and the Executive Branch from seeking to improperly influence members of the House of Representatives.

For example, on March 11, Governor Noem tweeted from her official account, “Why is Speaker Gosch protecting the AG? And why is the @argusleader helping him?”

--Staff Reports

Post Date: 2022-04-06 11:04:08Last Update: 2022-04-21 21:08:42


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