Impeachment proceedings and criminal charges shadow South Dakota Attorney General

On the night of Sept. 12, South Dakota Attorney General, Jason Ravnsborg was driving home to Pierre, S.D., from a Republican Party fundraiser in Redfield, S.D.  At approximately 10:30 p.m., Ravnsborg was near Highmore, S.D. on U.S. Highway 14 when he hit what he allegedly thought was a deer. Pulling over after the collision, according to his account, Ravnsborg called 911, inspected his damaged Ford Taurus and the surrounding ditch.

When the sheriff arrived, Ravnsborg repeated his account of hitting what he thought was a deer. Given the damaged state of his vehicle, the sheriff lent him a car for the night to finish the journey home. On his way to return the car the next day, Ravnsborg stopped to see if he could find the deer he had hit. Instead, Ravnsborg discovered the body of 55-year-old Joseph Boever. 

According to authorities, Boever had likely been walking back along the shoulder of Highway 14 to his vehicle, which had stalled in a ditch, when he was struck by Ravnsborg. 

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety, supported by other agencies, launched an investigation into the incident that concluded in late February. The authorities charged Ravnsborg with three misdemeanor charges, one each of driving while using an electronic device, failing to stay in his lane and careless driving. 

There is no statute in South Dakota covering negligent homicides, which prosecutors have observed adds complications to bringing charges in vehicular manslaughter traffic accident cases.

As the investigators neared the end of their investigation and brought charges against Ravnsborg, startling new details emerged.

Among the publicly released interviews are instances of investigators’ skepticism of Ravnsborg’s claims and his reaction to investigators’ findings. Included in the released interviews is a particularly vivid detail about investigators’ discovery of Boever’s glasses in Ravnsborg’s car. 

“So that means his face came through your windshield,” said an investigator regarding the significance of the location of the glasses. 

Faced with these new details, politicians that have largely refrained from commenting publicly on the case have broken their silence. Governor Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) has called on Ravnsborg to resign. On a bipartisan basis, legislators began drafting impeachment articles against the Attorney General in the South Dakota House of Representatives. 

In the face of criticism, Ravnsborg’s office has put out a statement indicating that he does not plan to resign.

A cousin of Boever has also voiced criticism of the charges, which he feels are too lenient. He also expressed suspicion that Ravnsborg is being treated more leniently given his position and connections. 

Impeachment proceedings stalled after the legislature voted to suspend them pending a resolution in the criminal case. This move came after a state circuit judge blocked the public release of more documents stemming from the investigation and sealed other evidence. The judge also ordered state officials to remove investigators’ interviews already released from a government website, deeming that all of these actions might violate Ravnsborg’s due process rights. 

Ravnsborg was elected to a four year term in 2018. Barring other action, such as resignation or impeachment, his term will end in Jan. 2023. Ravnsborg has not commented on whether he will pursue a second term. 

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