FORT PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The court hearing for South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg is over.
Judge John Brown ordered Ravnsborg to pay $1,000 for the two misdemeanor counts, more than $3,000 to Hyde County for costs associated with the investigation and ordered Ravnsborg to perform public service on distracted driving education.
At 11:40 a.m., Ranvsborg released an “official statement” following the hearing. The Republican attorney general said he is sorry Joe Boever lost his life in the accident and that he will continue his work for the people of South Dakota. You can see the full statement below.
Ravnsborg’s charges were announced in February after a months-long investigation into the death of Joe Boever, who was killed after being struck by Ravnsborg’s car while walking on the shoulder of Highway 14 just west of Highmore on the night of Sept. 12, 2020.
KELOLAND News will have complete coverage online and on-air from Thursday’s court proceedings. You can listen the 50-minute hearing in the play above.
The case of South Dakota vs. Jason Ravnsborg was being heard in the Stanley County Courthouse instead of the Hyde County Courthouse at the request of the court for convivence. Judge Brown reminded the court it was his decision not to hold jury trial for the three misdemeanor charges. A court trial was scheduled but a plea deal was made.
Ravnsborg’s attorney, Rapid City lawyer Tim Rensch, said Ravnsborg would plea “no contest” to the charges of operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device and improper lane driving. The state dropped the careless driving charge.
Judge Brown with the plea deal, the court did not need to make any “factual findings” and moved to sentencing.
Hyde County State’s Attorney Emily Sovell recapped the entire Ravnsborg investigation and said the case has played out “very publicly played out.”
“The facts have been everywhere,” Sovell said. “There’s been political underpinnings, there’s been more information filled out in this case I would say probably more than any other case I’ve witnessed in my 20 years practicing law.”
She offered her condolences to Joe Boever’s family and asked the judge to consider requiring Ravnsborg to offer some sort of education for young drivers. She also asked for funeral costs and Hyde County expenses related to the investigation also be paid.
“I know they are frustrated with the process,” Sovell said about the Boever said. “I’m very sorry for the loss they’ve endured.”
Joe Boever’s sister Jane Boever and his wife, Jenny Boever, each requested to speak and Judge Brown allowed.
Jane said the family has waited 349 days for the case to end and added the ending “is not the ending we hoped for.” She said if “an ordinary person was involved, the case would’ve been closed months ago.” She said Ravnsborg had “no remorse” to the law.
Jane said Ravnsborg’s “cowardly behavior” makes moving on harder.
Jenny said Ravnsborg’s actions were “inexcusable” and said she misses her husband. She told the judge she’s missed work because of her emotional state from the constant coverage of the case. She said she doesn’t like dealing with people anymore because they all ask about the case.
She told the judge she disagrees with him that Ravnsborg should not serve any jail time. Judge Brown said he understood.
Rensch then responded to all the comments from the family. He stressed the case being discussed was not a homicide or manslaughter case because there wasn’t enough evidence for the state to charge Ravnsborg with homicide.
He said “accidents happen” and Ravnsborg shouldn’t be treated like someone who is charged with homicide. He stressed Ravnsborg is “not a coward” and he has a Bronze Star while serving in the U.S. Military. He disputed Jenny Boever’s claim that Ravnsborg was “reckless.” Citing South Dakota law, Rensch said Ravnsborg’s actions did not meet the standard of reckless manslaughter.
Again he stressed the court trial was about two traffic violations.
Rensch then addressed the requests for Boever’s funeral costs and said a wrongful death suit, which Jenny Boever is expected to file, would be a place to ask for those costs. He again stressed Ravnsborg is not a coward because he called 911 right away after the crash. He pointed out Ravnsborg has been consistent in his statements about not seeing Joe Boever and added the Hyde County Sheriff and others driving along U.S. Highway 14 did not notice Boever’s body that night.
He said insurance money likely covered Boever’s funeral costs and said Boever’s sister, Jane, had “no standing” to make that request. He said Hyde County costs were covered by employee’s salaries and the taxpayers.
Rensch said “the county isn’t the victim” and closed his statements by saying Ravnsborg didn’t want Boever to die. He said there will be “people who hate him and will always hate him and the people who love him, will always love him and no one will every change their minds.”
Sovell said Boever’s general life insurance policy was paid out and noted the plea deal admits guilt so she stood by the cost requests.
Judge Brown said the sentence he was handing down regarded two traffic violations. He said the outcome was tragic and denied Rensch’s request for suspended imposition. He noted suspended jail time is not available to be served by the court and said the maximum fine for each count is $500.
He granted court costs of more than $3,000 to Hyde County, but denied the funeral costs. He said Ravnsborg has 30 days to pay his $1,000 fines and lastly he required Ravnsborg to do a public service event every year for five years around the accident anniversary date.
Rensch challenged how the judge could request five years when the max jail sentence would be 30 days. He said he’d submit a challenge to that ruling. Lastly, Rensch asked for Ravnsborg’s two phones and car to be returned.
The state did not object to that request and court was adjourned.
Below is the statement from Ravnsborg. He criticizes the media about “untrue, and misleading things” but does not provide any examples.
The legal criminal conclusion to what happened on U.S. Highway 14 just west of Highmore on the night of Sept. 12, 2020, will be decided at a hearing scheduled to start at 9 a.m. at the Stanley County Courthouse in Fort Pierre.
KELOLAND News will air a Special Report on KELO-TV Thursday morning and livestream the audio from the court proceedings online.
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg is expected to take a plea deal for three misdemeanor traffic charges, a prosecutor confirmed to KELOLAND News. As part of the plea deal, the careless driving charge will be dropped and because there will be no jury trial, Ravnsborg won’t face any jail time.
You can listen along to the court hearing in the player above.
The first-term attorney general is being represented by Rapid City lawyer Tim Rensch, while Hyde County State’s Attorney Emily Sovell is prosecuting Ravnsborg for operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device, improper lane driving and careless driving. Circuit Court Judge John Brown will oversee the proceedings.
Sovell has also been working with Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore.
Each of the misdemeanors carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in county jail, a $500 fine or both. Details of the plea deal are expected to be released during the proceedings.
How we got here
Ravnsborg’s charges were announced in February after a months-long investigation into the death of Joe Boever, who was killed after being struck by Ravnsborg’s car while walking on the shoulder of Highway 14.
In March, Ravnsborg plead not guilty to the three misdemeanor charges at the Hughes County Courthouse. In May, Ravnsborg’s defense asked for more time to prepare for a criminal trial, which was set for Aug. 26.
In June, Ravnsborg’s attorney filed a document objecting to cameras or audio in the courtroom and in July, Ravnsborg requested Boever’s psychiatric records.
Ravnsborg also claims evidence at the scene proves that Boever was on the road, not the shoulder when he was hit.
Ravnsborg called 911 after the crash and said he didn’t know what he had hit. The Hyde County Sheriff came to the scene and the two men looked but reportedly didn’t find anything. Ravnsborg used the sheriff’s personal vehicle to continue home to Pierre. The next day, Ravnsborg returned to the scene and found Boever’s body next to the road.
Criminal investigators from North Dakota determined from the crash scene that Ravnsborg’s vehicle was on the paved shoulder when it struck Boever. Investigators told Ravnsborg that Boever’s face had smashed through Ravnsborg’s windshield. They said Boever’s glasses were found in the front passenger seat.
Investigators also said the flashlight Boever was carrying was still lit when his body was found.
After the crash, Republican Governor Kristi Noem repeatedly called for Ravnsborg to resign. At one point, Judge Brown ordered the governor to remove two videos of Ravnsborg’s interviews with investigators from the state Department of Public Safety website.
The South Dakota House of Representatives has a bipartisan-sponsored impeachment resolution pending against Ravnsborg and former attorney general Marty Jackley has already announced he will seek the Republican nomination in 2022.
The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. but Ravsnborg does not have to be there to enter a plea, which would end criminal proceedings.
Boever’s widow, Jenny, is expected to file a civil suit against Ravnsborg after the criminal trial.