PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The highway-crash file from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety investigation into state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was provided Wednesday for Speaker Spencer Gosch to possibly re-start a House impeachment proceeding against him, Governor Kristi Noem said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Ravnsborg, a Republican, pleaded no-contest last week to two second-class misdemeanor traffic charges from the night the car he was driving hit and killed pedestrian Joe Boever at the west edge of Highmore.
“The remarkable detail in this investigation file will assist the House in its important work of considering whether to proceed with impeachment articles for the Attorney General,” Noem, a Republican, said in the statement.
A cover letter to the file from state Public Safety Secretary Craig Price said prosecutors should have charged Ravnsborg with second-degree manslaughter.
The file was delivered to the Legislative Research Council office at the state Capitol. Among the dozens of items is an interview with Ravnsborg’s chief of staff, Tim Bormann, who was with Ravnsborg the next morning when Ravnsborg found Boever’s body at the crash scene.
Also in the file is an interview with the widow, Jennifer Boever, as well as two interviews with Ravnsborg that North Dakota investigators conducted after the crash. Noem had posted the Ravnsborg interviews on the DPS website earlier this year before the trial judge ordered that they come down.
The prosecutors, Hyde County deputy state’s attorney Emily Sovell and Beadle County state’s attorney Michael Moore, in announcing the charges last winter, told reporters the facts of the case didn’t support manslaughter under South Dakota law.
KELOLAND News sent written requests for responses to Ravnsborg’s personal spokesman, Mike Deaver, and to the House speaker. Replied Deaver in an email, “Nothing as of yet(,) will let you know if anything changes.” Said Gosch in a text, “I haven’t received written request from anyone yet.”
Representative Will Mortenson introduced an impeachment resolution during the 2021 legislative session. His co-sponsors were House Republican leader Kent Peterson and House Democrat leader Jamie Smith.
Speaker Gosch put the matter on hold, changing the language to say the House “may evaluate” whether to continue after “a conviction, plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or acquittal” in the case. The House voted 57-11 for the Gosch version.
A majority of the 70 House members is needed to impeach. Two-thirds of the 35-member Senate is necessary for Ravnsborg to be convicted and turned out of office.
Ravnsborg never appeared in court on the charges. Noem issued a statement last week after he entered the no-contest pleas, calling again on him to resign. “If Ravnsborg does not resign, as I believe he should, the Legislature can and should consider the articles of impeachment already brought in the House,” she said.
Ravnsborg issued a statement that day, saying he was sorry for the death of Boever and that he was sorry to Boever’s family, but gave no indication he would resign.
Ravnsborg had issued a statement shortly after the September 12, 2020, crash, never mentioning the name of Joe Boever or his family, but saying he wanted to dispel some of the rumor and innuendo. He added, “That being said, I will not be answering questions at this time and will give this investigation the respect that it deserves.”
Retired Circuit Judge John Brown sentenced Ravnsborg to the maximum $500 fine for each of the two charges — illegally driving outside the lane of travel and illegally using an electronic device while operating a motor vehicle — plus court costs, and ordered that Ravnsborg pay additional expenses of $3,742.38 for the investigation in Hyde County.
Judge Brown wanted Ravnsborg to perform a significant public event on or near the anniversary of Joe Boever’s death annually for the next five years, but defense attorney Tim Rensch successfully argued the judge couldn’t.
The Legislature can call itself into special session if two-thirds majorities in both chambers support it. The Legislature plans a special session on November 8 to draw new legislative districts.
The governor, under section 4-3 of the South Dakota Constitution, can call both chambers into special session. The governor also has authority to call either the House or the Senate into special session.
Otherwise, consideration of impeachment would need to wait until the Legislature returns in January for the 2022 session.
Ravnsborg, a Yankton lawyer, won the open Republican nomination at the party’s 2018 summer convention, getting more support from delegates than then-Senator Lance Russell of Hot Springs and Lawrence County state’s attorney John Fitzgerald. Ravnsborg then defeated the Democrat candidate, former U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler of Fort Pierre.
Seiler, now the South Dakota Democratic Party chairman, also called for Ravnsborg to resign last week after the no-contest pleas. Marty Jackley of Pierre, a former U.S. attorney who served as state attorney general for 10 years, was term-limited in the office and ran for governor in the Republican primary in 2018, losing to Noem. Jackley has announced his intention to seek the attorney general post again in 2022.