PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A trail of text messages shows that a top member of Governor Kristi Noem’s staff was in communication with a top aide to state Attorney General Jason Ravsnborg on the day after the crash that killed pedestrian Joe Boever.
There were also text communications two days later to Ravnsborg from the same person, Tony Venhuizen, who at the time was the governor’s chief of staff. The messages were released Wednesday as part of the House Select Committee on Investigation report.
The first exchange between Venhuizen and the attorney general’s chief of staff, Tim Bormann, came on Sunday, September 13, 2020, less than 24 hours after the deadly incident at the west edge of Highmore.
Venhuizen wrote that the governor wanted Ravnsborg to tell the public he would cooperate with the investigation.
Ravnsborg put out the one-paragraph statement later that day, following a news media briefing that Noem held in Sioux Falls.
The texts show Bormann asked Ravnsborg whether to provide a copy to Venhuizen. Replied Ravnsborg, “Yes as it also tells noem (sic) I am fully cooperating.”
Two days later, on September 15, 2020, Ravnsborg received a text from Venhuizen stating the governor wanted Ravnsborg to publicly declare he was taking a leave of absence.
“Jason — Given what is happening, the Governor is going to ask you to take a leave of absence, at least until the conclusion of the investigation. She will be announcing that at 1 pm. If you agree to do that, she would say so at that time,” the text said.
Sixteen minutes later, Ravnsborg received another text from Venhuizen. It said, “She believes the right course of action would be for you to announce that you are voluntarily taking a leave of absence until the investigation is complete. She won’t say anything until we hear back from you.”
That Ravnsborg did not do.
On February 23, 2021, the governor issued a statement calling for Ravnsborg to resign. This came after prosecutors charged him with three second-class misdemeanors in relation to the crash. Noem announced that investigative files would begin to be released about him.
The next day, Representative Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, filed articles of impeachment against Ravnsborg. House Speaker Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, later amended the resolution to say the House would evaluate whether to take impeachment action.
The House Select Committee on Investigation voted 6-2 Monday night against recommending impeachment.
The statement that Ravnsborg issued on September 13, 2020, was on his office’s official letterhead. However, it doesn’t appear on his office’s website.
The statement said, “I am shocked and filled with sorrow following the events of last night. As Governor Noem stated, I am fully cooperating with the investigation and I fully intend to continue to do so moving forward. At this time I offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to the family.”
Despite saying he intended to continue cooperating, Ravnsborg never appeared in circuit court on the misdemeanor charges. He had his personal defense attorney instead enter pleas of no-contest to two and accepted a plea arrangement for the third to be dropped.