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South Dakota's AG charged with 3 misdemeanors in fatal crash
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South Dakota's AG charged with 3 misdemeanors in fatal crash

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Joe Boever (left) and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg

The South Dakota Attorney General was charged Thursday with three misdemeanors related to him hitting and killing a pedestrian more than five months ago. 

Jason Ravnsborg is charged with unsafely driving outside a lane and careless driving when he hit Joe Boever, said Emily Sovell, Hyde County deputy state's attorney. He's also charged with being on his phone while driving before the crash. 

All three charges are Class 2 misdemeanors, each punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Ravnsborg will be issued a summons to appear in Hyde County Court, Sovell said. 

Sovell said there was no evidence that Ravnsborg was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, ruling out the charge of vehicular homicide. She also said driving outside the lane didn't meet the high burden of the legal definition of "reckless" needed for a second-degree manslaughter charge. 

Ravnsborg does not plan to resign, his personal spokesman Mike Deaver told the Journal. He said Ravnsborg won't speak with media until he has time to review the charging documents and evidence. 

fatal crash photo

The skid marks at the scene of the accident on U.S. 14 west of Highmore appear to show that right tire of the car driven by South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was on the shoulder of the road.

Sovell made her announcement during a news conference at the state Capitol with Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore, who helped her evaluate the case. Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo and the former Minnehaha state's attorney also helped Sovell but did not attend the news conference.

Noem and Nick Nemec, cousin of the victim Joe Boever, have been critical of how long the investigation and charging decision. The governor also said her office made "inquiries on a regular basis" but the attorneys never communicated with her.

However, Noem never publicly said Ravnsborg should step down or take a leave of absence and denied reports that she asked him to resign in the days after the crash. She continued to not call for his resignation after Thursday's announcement. 

"My heart goes out to Joseph Boever’s family. I am not going to comment on the specifics of Ms. Sovell’s decision," Noem said in the tweet. "I am directing the Department of Public Safety to share additional details of the investigation with the public within the next week."

Ravnsborg has remained on the job since the crash and has recently been testifying during the legislative session in Pierre. The only duty he appears to have stepped away from is evaluating police use-of-force incidents, a request made by South Dakota police departments and sheriff's offices.

Mike Volek, the Hyde County sheriff who responded to the crash and let Ravnsborg borrow his car to drive home that night, did not immediately return a message. 

Experts told South Dakota News Watch that state laws, which favor drivers over pedestrians, would make it difficult to criminally charge Ravnsborg or successfully sue him in a civil lawsuit. 

The case was investigated by Highway Patrol with the help from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and a private crash reconstruction expert from Wyoming.

BCI filled in for the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, which often helps investigate fatal crashes. DCI stepped away from this investigation to avoid a conflict of interest since the agency is under Ravnsborg’s office.

Timeline 

Ravnsborg called 911 around 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 12 to say he hit something in the middle of the road on U.S. Highway 14 near Highmore, according to the transcript of his call. He said he had no idea what he hit but later agreed it might have been a deer after the dispatcher raised that possibility.

The attorney general was distracted when he entered the north shoulder and hit Boever, who was walking with a flashlight, according to the accident report and Price. How exactly Ravnsborg was distracted is still under investigation, the report and Price said in November.

Ravnsborg said in a Sept. 14 statement that he hadn't been drinking and thought he hit “a large animal." He said he didn't realize he hit and killed a person until he returned to the scene the next morning and found a body “just off the roadway."

Ravnsborg said he found Boever after stopping to see if he could find a dead deer when he was on his way to return the personal vehicle that Volek let him borrow to drive home to Pierre the night before. Ravnsborg said he drove to the sheriff’s nearby home to report the body instead of calling 911.

Price said on Sept. 15 that he would “release the investigative report as soon as it is complete."

However, DPS only released four elements, not a complete investigative report.

The agency shared toxicology reports and a photograph of Ravnsborg's car, information that is not usually available through a public records request. It also shared the crash report, which is always a public record, and Ravnsborg's 911 call from Sept. 12. 911 calls are sometimes public records.

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A photograph of Jason Ravnsborg's car taken some time after the Sept. 12 crash. 

DPS denied a public records request asking for 911 calls the sheriff or anyone else made about the crash on Sept. 12 and 13.

More information should be released after Noem's call for DPS to share more details about the investigation. 

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