South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) faces an uncertain political future as the state legislature threatens his impeachment over a slate of recently-released criminal charges resulting from the death of Joseph Boever last year.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers began those proceedings in the South Dakota House of Representatives on Tuesday as a direct response to the attorney general’s adamant stance in the face of three misdemeanors over the tragic Sept. 2020 highway death.
The move from the lower chamber of the Mount Rushmore state legislature comes after Gov. Kristi Noem (R) asked for Ravnsborg’s resignation in light of his legal jeopardy.
“Now that the investigation has closed and charges have been filed, I believe the Attorney General should resign,” Noem said in a Monday statement. “I have reviewed the material we are releasing, starting today, and I encourage others to review it as well.”
But the state’s top law enforcement officer signaled that he was intent on keeping his job.
“As an attorney and a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves, AG Ravnsborg has fought for the rule of law and personal liberties and would hope that he is afforded the same right and courtesy,” Ravnsborg spokesperson Mike Deaver said in response.
South Dakota House GOP leaders quickly got to work following Noem’s statement, according to the Argus Leader.
A closed-door session of the caucus went on through the night as legislators crafted two articles of impeachment, delaying Tuesday’s floor session by over an hour. When all was said and done, Rep. Will Mortenson, who represents the area where Boever was killed, made the initial announcement.
“When we started looking through and thinking about the duties that the attorney general owes to the people of South Dakota, and I think he owes a special duty to protect the people and uphold the laws,” Mortenson said. “And I think that the actions in these incidents fell short of that duty.”
As Law&Crime previously reported, the three misdemeanors do not carry significant jail time and incarceration in Ravnsborg’s case is extremely unlikely. While galling for Boever’s family, officials in South Dakota aren’t looking for a harsh criminal justice solution here.
“This is not political, and it is not personal,” Mortenson, who is an attorney, added. “Again, I do not believe Attorney General Ravnsborg belongs in prison, but I know he does not belong in the Office of the Attorney General anymore.”
Law&Crime reached out to Boever’s cousin, Nick Nemec, who has been a vocal critic of the investigation’s slow pace from the beginning. The family has also pointed to incongruities raised by law enforcement reports about his cousin’s death.
“In South Dakota, provided you aren’t drunk you can run over any pedestrian you happen to see without any consequences other than possibly a misdemeanor lane violation charge,” Nemec told Law&Crime after Ravnsborg was charged last week.
Ravnsborg faces one count each of careless driving, operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device and a lane-changing violation. Each of those “Class 2” misdemeanors carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
The apparently light suite of charges has raised questions about power and corruption in South Dakota, but Nemec said he would like to read the full report before coming to any such conclusions.
“I would like to read and study it so I can make an informed decision as to some of the conclusions reached,” he said. “I’m not ready to say there was a cover-up, but I am very frustrated by the end result, which I had predicted months ago.”
Still, Nemec believes Ravnsborg should never again hold elected office.
“He should resign or be impeached and removed from office. He should never have another elected office, he should get some sort of ‘other than honorable’ discharge from the Army Reserve,” Nemec told Law&Crime.
Part of the investigative materials released publicly include three hours of two videotaped interviews overseen by Special Agents of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. One of the interviews contains a key piece of evidence that is likely to lead to further confusion about Ravnsborg’s original story—he first claimed to have hit a deer—and the eventual charges filed against him.
After telling Ravsnborg that the dead man’s reading glasses were recovered from inside the attorney general’s vehicle, authorities skeptically quizzed him as to how he didn’t know he struck and killed a human being. “His face was in your windshield, Jason. Think about that,” a detective with the North Dakota Bureau of Investigation said during an interrogation on Sept. 30. Ravnsborg denied knowing anything about the glasses found in his Ford Taurus.
The initial accident report said that the attorney general was not intoxicated but confirmed that he was “distracted” during the crash.
“[Ravnsborg] was traveling westbound on US HWY 14. [Ravnsborg] was distracted. [Ravnsborg] entered the north shoulder while traveling westbound. [Boever] was walking on the north shoulder. [Boever] was struck by [Ravnsborg]. [Boever] was carrying a light. The exact time of crash is still under investigation,” the report stated. “The specific distraction is still under investigation.”
A blood sample wasn’t taken from Ravnsborg until 15 hours after the fatal crash. That sample turned up no alcohol in a toxicology report.
Ravnsborg, after his car was wrecked, drove home that night in a vehicle owned by the Hyde County Sheriff. Boever’s body was found the next day, when Ravnsborg returned to the scene in the vehicle he borrowed.
Mortenson’s resolution, which is currently in committee and will be formally introduced on Wednesday, was cosponsored by the Republican and Democratic leaders in the House, Majority Leader Kent Peterson (R) and Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D), who framed the process as necessary for South Dakota writ large.
“It’s about doing the right thing for South Dakota,” Peterson said. “We must hold our elected leaders to a high standard. In this case, the attorney general has failed to meet that standard, and we owe it to the people to bring these articles.”
“The attorney general has lost the confidence of the people of South Dakota, and he should be removed from office for the betterment of the state,” Smith said.
[image via screengrab]
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