FORT PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State Circuit Judge John Brown sentenced South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to pay roughly $5,000 in fines and costs Thursday for two traffic violations committed prior to the September 12, 2020, crash that left pedestrian Joe Boever dead along US 14 at the west edge of Highmore.
Whether state government’s top law enforcement official faces more punishment is still unsettled. Judge Brown ordered that Ravnsborg also perform “a significant public event” annually, on or near the anniversary date of Boever’s death, for the next five years.
But defense attorney Timothy Rensch argued that the judge didn’t have authority under state law to require those appearances. Rensch said that was because the judge hadn’t issued a suspended imposition of sentence or a suspended execution of sentence.
Rensch had appealed the sentence of a different client to the South Dakota Supreme Court. The justices in a 2018 opinion said the sentence wasn’t illegal.
Judge Brown told Rensch to present his argument early next week. The judge said there will be a hearing. “I’ll take written responses on that,” the judge said.
Ravnsborg also could have received up to 30 days in county jail for each charge. But Judge Brown said he — Brown — took jail time off the range of possible punishments.
Ravnsborg never appeared in a courtroom on the matter. He instead sent his defense attorney in March to plead not-guilty to three second-class misdemeanors.
In July, his attorney suggested that Boever might have committed suicide by jumping in front of Ravnsborg’s car. After the judge decided August 8 that Boever’s mental-health records weren’t relevant, Ravnsborg accepted a deal that became public knowledge Wednesday.
Rensch went alone again to the court Thursday to enter ‘no-contest’ pleas for Ravnsborg to improper lane driving and to driving a motor vehicle while operating an electronic device.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped the third charge, of careless driving. Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore, who helped Hyde County deputy state’s attorney Emily Sovell prosecute Ravnsborg, told reporters Thursday that careless driving was the most difficult of the three to prove.
The judge found Ravnsborg guilty on the two charges and directed the maximum possible penalty of $500 plus court costs for each.
The judge also ordered Ravnsborg to pay $3,742.38 to Hyde County for its costs. But the judge denied a request from Boever’s mother for reimbursement of funeral costs because they had been already covered by an insurance policy.
Boever’s sister, Jane, and his estranged wife, Jenny, both spoke in court before the judge delivered the sentence. Jenny Boever declined to answer any questions afterward. Jane Boever read a statement to reporters but didn’t take any questions, either.
Jane Boever said Ravnsborg had shown no remorse and called him arrogant. She said the words “honor, humility and courage” would never be used to describe him. She said he continued to travel widely for work and politics. “Yet he was allowed to not appear here today.”
Jenny Boever and Joe Boever were living apart in Highmore on that Saturday night when he died. She told the judge Thursday she had worked the night after her husband had been run over, not knowing he was the victim, and didn’t learn it was him until Monday morning. “I broke down completely after that phone call. I did not get to say goodbye to my husband,” she said.
The widow is expected to file a wrongful-death suit in civil court after the criminal proceedings are final.
His attorney said Ravnsborg had the same rights as any other citizens charged with misdemeanor crimes who chose to have an attorney represent them rather than appear in court.
Two of Boever’s cousins were in the Stanley County Courthouse on Thursday and had candid words afterward for Ravnsborg.
Nick Nemec of Holabird, a past state legislator and Democrat, said he hoped that the Legislature would impeach Ravnsborg — and if not, that Ravnsborg wouldn’t receive the Republican nomination again at the 2022 state convention, and if Ravnsborg is re-nominated, that a majority of South Dakota voters would support his opponent. The Marine Corps veteran said Ravnsborg, a member of the Army Reserve who received a Bronze Star, didn’t deserve a promotion to colonel.
Vic Nemec of Holabird said, “At different times in our life we’re thrust into situations where we need to prove what kind of person we are — whether you’re going to be a stand-up person who admits to your wrongdoings and your faults, or whether you’re going to be a guy that just decides to do whatever it takes to weasel out of a bad situation.
“And I’m going to say this very bluntly — at every step of the process throughout this last year, Mister Ravnsborg has proved to me and the rest of the state and the country what type of person he is. That’s the type of person that tries to weasel out of a bad situation and victim-blaming — almost every step of the way blaming the victim — ‘Not my fault, not my fault’.” He added, “A little bit of contrition could go a long way.”
Ravnsborg, through a private press agent, later issued a statement that may have been the first time he referred to Joe Boever by name in public since the crash 349 days before.
It began, “First and foremost, I am very sorry Joe Boever lost his life in this accident. I am sorry to the entire family for the loss of their loved one. They have had to deal with the pain, anger, and sadness of this accident.”
Then it went on to a rallying cry on behalf of his office’s staff and the issues they’re working on.
Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, issued a statement Thursday afternoon renewing her call for Ravnsborg to resign from the office — his annual pay currently is $121,449 — and calling for the Legislature to resume its impeachment process if he doesn’t.
South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Randy Seiler also issued a statement calling on Ravnsborg to resign. Ravnsborg defeated Seiler for attorney general in the 2018 general election.