PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Neither Jason Ravnsborg nor his defense attorney had anything they were willing to say to news reporters Tuesday evening as they left the Capitol following the Senate’s decisions to remove the suspended South Dakota attorney general from office. On Wednesday, the person Ravnsborg hired to speak for him regarding the fatal 2020 car crash that killed pedestrian Joe Boever had nothing more to share, either.
“He has not given me anything as of yet,” Mike Deaver from Strategies 360 said. Asked whether Ravnsborg was still using his services, Deaver said, “Not after this. As you know, he’s been reluctant to speak at all about the matter since it started, despite my advice.”
Ravnsborg, a Republican, was immediately removed from office after the votes Tuesday by a Senate of 31 Republicans and two Democrats. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, hadn’t announced an interim replacement who would serve until a new attorney general takes office in January 2023. Charles McGuigan is the chief deputy attorney general.
Charlie Hoffman, a Republican state representative from Eureka who voted for impeachment and isn’t seeking re-election this year, tweeted Wednesday morning, “Politicians this is now crystal clear in SD: Tell the absolute truth, accept responsibility and ask forgiveness correctly.”
Nick Nemec, a Democrat former legislator from Holabird who with his brother, Victor, had pushed for justice for Boever, their cousin, posted a message Tuesday night on Facebook:
“Today, nearly two years after he ran over and killed Joe Boever, Jason Ravnsborg was found guilty by the South Dakota Senate in an impeachment trial, removed from office and barred from ever again holding any public office in South Dakota.
“Some degree of justice has been served, but Joe is dead and he will be dead forever. He lives on in our memories, he could be frustrating, funny, and kind. In short, he was human and stolen from us much too soon. We miss you Joe Joe.”
Senator Troy Heinert of Mission, one of the two Democrats present Tuesday, urged the Senate to vote to remove Ravnsborg. Heinert told senators that no one wanted to be in the spot they faced and it came down to who could be believed. “That man lay out there for almost a day,” he said about the victim. Then Heinert paused for 18 seconds, the time it took Ravnsborg to stop the car after crashing into Boever on the shoulder.
His main defense attorney, Mike Butler, said in his closing argument that Ravnsborg driving outside his lane didn’t merit removal from office. “The Senate should not be reduced to the role of a traffic court,” Butler said.
Butler noted that Boever’s family received a civil settlement. “And they couldn’t have done it without the attorney general’s cooperation,” Butler said.
Butler said the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation supervisory agent was wrong in telling Ravnsborg he was on his phone when the crash happened. Butler also reminded senators that Ravnsborg was willing to take a polygraph but North Dakota agents decided against it.
Butler said the prosecution didn’t present clear and convincing evidence on the two impeachment articles regarding action “in office.” He said impeachment shouldn’t have been brought.
But one of the prosecutors, Pennington County state’s attorney Mark Vargo, said in his closing argument that Ravnsborg didn’t tell the truth. “He lies about where he was in the lane,” Vargo said.
Ravnsborg shook his head in disagreement. Vargo said Ravnsborg further lied when he told House members in a letter the night before the impeachment vote that his car wasn’t on the shoulder at the time of the crash.
Ravnsborg looked miserable as Vargo played snippets of audio from Ravnsborg’s interviews. “We’ve transitioned to a place where the attorney general wants you to feel sorry for him,” Vargo said.
“Historically and in this case, he uses his office to get out of trouble,” Vargo said, after playing clips of Ravnsborg telling law enforcement officers who had stopped him for speeding, and to investigators and the 911 dispatcher in the Boever crash, that he’s attorney general.
Vargo said letting Ravnsborg off would send a message there are two standards, one for working people and one for elected people. “There are consequences to inaction as well,” Vargo said.
Noem had repeatedly urged Ravnsborg to resign and finally called on the House to impeach him if he didn’t step down. The House issued two articles of impeachment against Ravsnborg on April 12, despite a House special committee issuing a report that recommended against impeachment.
She also announced an endorsement of former Attorney General Marty Jackley, who’s seeking to return to the office. Noem defeated Jackley in the Republican primary for governor in June 2018.
Jackley and David Natvig, director for the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, are competing for the Republican nomination that delegates will decide this weekend at the South Dakota Republican statewide convention in Watertown. Ravnsborg appointed Natvig to the post as he took office more than three years ago.