More than a year and a half after he ran down and killed a man, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg may be done with facing any consequences.
A special investigative committee of the South Dakota House of Representatives emerged from a closed-door meeting Monday to recommend against impeaching Ravnsborg. It would have been the first impeachment trial in the state’s 133-year history.
According to a 22-page report released early Monday evening, there were not sufficient grounds to remove Ravnsborg from office. A special investigative committee voted 6-2 against recommending impeachment, with six Republicans voting no, and the two Democrats favoring it. Committee chair Spencer Gosch did not vote.
“The Select Committee finds under a clear and convincing standard that Attorney General Ravnsborg did not commit misdemeanor in office, as he committed no crime or other wrongful act involving moral turpitude by virtue or authority of his office,” according to the report.
The full House, which Republicans control 62-8, will convene on April 12 to decide if it will accept the report.
A group of Republican legislators sent a letter to Ravnsborg earlier in the day, asking him to seek guidance from the state Supreme Court to challenge Gov. Kristi Noem for her use of federal COVID funds.
Noem, in a response issued by her re-election committee, said legislators were more interested in “protecting one of their own” instead of holding Ravnsborg responsible for the fatal crash. She was even sharper on her own Twitter account.
“Jason Ravnsborg killed a man, led investigators about the events of that night, and attempted to cover it up,” Noem said. “Joseph Boever’s family deserves justice.”
Ravnsborg, a first-term Republican who hopes to seek reelection this year, ran over and killed Joe Boever on Sept. 12, 2020, on a lonely stretch of US Highway 14 in central South Dakota. Ravnsborg claimed he had no idea what he struck with his car, and after the local sheriff could not find Boever’s body, Ravnsborg was loaned a car and drove back to Pierre, the state capital, that night.
The next morning, Ravnsborg was returning Sheriff Mike Volek’s car when he said he stopped at the crash site. He found Boever’s body and drove to the sheriff’s nearby home to report it.
That set off a firestorm in South Dakota politics that has yet to calm down.
Noem, like Ravnsborg a Republican in her first term, has repeatedly called for him to resign or for the Legislature to remove him from office.
Impeachment hearings started in February 2021, but after Noem released videos of Ravnsborg stumbling through interviews with a pair of North Dakota investigators, the effort grounded to a halt. Legislators said they would allow the criminal process to be completed before considering impeachment.
Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors, but he struck a deal to plead no contest to two of them, with the reckless driving count dismissed. He paid a pair of $ 500 fines plus $ 3,000 in court costs. Retired Circuit Court Judge John Brown, who heard the case after all other judges recused themselves, also ordered Ravnsborg to perform public service on distracted driving education.
Ravnsborg never even appeared in a courtroom during the legal process. He settled a civil lawsuit with Boever’s widow for an undisclosed sum.
Ravnsborg issued a statement on Aug. 26, 2021, saying he was “very sorry Joe Boever lost his life in this accident. I am sorry to the whole family for the loss of their loved one. ”
He said he had “fully cooperated” with the investigation while refraining from speaking to reporters. Ravnsborg said he wished he had met Boever “under different circumstances.”
He then segued into discussing the work his office had done and talked about other issues, including the regulation of marijuana, approved by South Dakota voters in 2020, handling a $ 26 billion opioid settlement, and dealing with methamphetamine, opioids, and fentanyl.
“I do not know all the Lord has in store for me, but I trust in Him. As I continue my service as your attorney general, I’ll keep fighting for you, just as I have since the day I took office. May God bless each of you, and may God continue to bless South Dakota. ”
Noem then renewed her call for Ravnsborg to resign or for the Legislature to impeach him.
“With today’s plea, Jason Ravnsborg’s legal proceedings have concluded. Like many South Dakotans, I am not only disappointed in how this process was handled by prosecutors, but outraged at the result of today’s plea hearing and sentencing, ”she said. “Ravnsborg has not accepted responsibility for the death of Joseph Boever and did not even appear in court today to face the charges or the Boever family.”
The North Dakota investigators brought to their sister state to look into the fatal crash told Ravnsborg they doubted his story. They reminded him that Boever’s face came through the windshield of the car, and his glasses were found inside.
They repeated that in testimony before the special committee on Jan. 19.
“He walked by a flashlight that’s on,” North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Arnie Rummel said. “There’s a body that’s laying within two feet of the roadway and obviously deceased and he’s all white, there’s no blood being pumped in him, and the fact white is reflective, I believe that he’d have to see him.”
On Monday, the South Dakota Legislature adjourned for the year after failing to overturn three vetoes from Noem. The House Select Committee on Investigation got to work at 3:07 pm CDT and immediately went into executive session.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, waited for an announcement. He was with Jenny Boever, widow of the 55-year-old Highmore man ran over by Ravnsborg, and her mother, Deanne Smith.
On Monday night, Nemec said he expected this decision from the committee. A former Democratic legislator, he has served as a family spokesman and has closely observed the entire legal and political process.
“I’m disappointed,” Nemec told The Daily Beast. “I was hoping some of the Republicans on the committee would vote for impeachment. But it was a straight party-line vote. “
He said he had little reason to think the full House would ignore the recommendation and move forward on impeachment. House Democrats will ask for their minority report, which recommends removing the attorney general, he adopted, Democratic House leader Rep. Jamie Smith, a member of the committee who is also the party’s gubernatorial candidate, told Nemec.
But Nemec said he does not expect that to happen.
“No, I’m not hopeful at all,” he said.
There have been other twists in the case.
After the 2022 session ended Monday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Karr asked Attorney General Ravnsborg to seek a judicial ruling on how Noem has spent federal COVID stimulus dollars. The governor vetoed a bill ordering her to receive clearance from a special House committee, and the Legislature failed to override it Monday. But the debate did not end there.
“We therefore request that a court action be commenced seeking a declaratory judgment or other appropriate action, including a potential writ of prohibition, to ensure all state spending is undertaken with lawful authority,” a letter to the attorney general states. It was signed by 11 lawmakers — including Speaker Gosch.
Legislators were angry earlier this month when electronic billboards appeared in Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, urging the impeachment of Ravnsborg and calling out lawmakers, asking them “what were they trying to hide?”
A group called the Dakota Institute for Legislative Solutions, led by a man named Rob Burgess, took credit for the signs. Noem said she was not involved, but legislators said they wondered if she was playing a role in this piece of politics via outdoor advertising.
Gosch told Dakota News Now, a TV news operation, that the governor seemed obsessed with the attorney general.
“She does not like that man. I do not know if it’s because he’s got ongoing investigations into her conduct, I do not know what it is, ”he said. “But she does not like that man. she’s been wrongfully accusing him of a lot of things in the past year and a half. ”
Noem is being investigated for her use of state airplanes to travel to out-of-state political events as she raised her national profile, as well as her involvement in pressuring a longtime state employee to give her daughter a real estate appraiser’s license. Noem said she did nothing unethical or inappropriate.
“I have been contacted by concerned citizens and legislators,” Ravnsborg said in September about the license issue, which included a meeting in the governor’s office attended by the state employee, Noem’s top staffers — and her daughter. “I am actively reviewing their concerns and I will be following the steps prescribed in codified law in relation to those questions.”
The state employee, Sherry Bren, later retired. She received a $ 200,000 settlement from the state after filing an age-discrimination lawsuit. Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, surrendered her license at the end of 2021.
The fatal crash almost faded into the background at times. Volek never spoke publicly about the case before he died during a trip to North Carolina in November. His family said his health had been declining, and he died of a heart attack.
Noem has feuded with Speaker Gosch, who chairs the South Dakota House Select Committee on Investigation.
She has endorsed former Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is also backing her for reelection. The two waged a bitter contest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018, but now Noem is supporting him in his bid for his old job.
In South Dakota, attorney general candidates, as well as aspirants for other statewide offices, are chosen at the party state conventions. Jackley hopes to deny Ravnsborg the GOP nomination.
If Ravnsborg is removed from office, it will be highly unlikely he could run for a second term. But there have been so many unexpected developments in this story, nothing seems off the table.