South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will serve no jail time for hitting and killing a pedestrian last year on a rural highway in central South Dakota.
Ravnsborg entered pleas of No Contest on 2 traffic misdemeanors Thursday as part of a plea agreement that dropped a third count and Circuit Judge John Brown fined him a total of $1,000.
Judge Brown also ordered Ravnsborg to pay assorted court costs and to “do a significant public service event” each year over the next five years near the date of the accident that killed 55-year Joe Boever.
Brown put the community service requirement on hold after Ravnsborg’s attorney objected that it was not allowed by statute. He took the argument under advisement and will rule later.
Ravnsborg was not required to attend the hearing and didn’t, which angered Boever’s family, who had complained bitterly before sentencing that the law didn’t provide stiff enough punishment and that Ravnsborg acted arrogant the whole time.
“Why, after having to wait nearly a year, do we not have the chance to face him?” Boever’s sister, Jane Boever, told the court. She said her brother was “left behind carelessly” the night he died.
She also accused Ravnsborg of running down her brother and then using his position and resources to string the case along, adding that he has shown no remorse and only “arrogance toward the law.”
Jennifer Boever, the victim’s widow has filed a wrongful death suit and told Judge Brown that Ravnsborg’s “actions are incomprehensible and … cannot be forgiven.”
The defense team pushed back hard on the family’s criticism, calling the attorney general an “honorable man” and emphasized that it wasn’t a homicide or manslaughter case because “Accidents happen, people die.”
Ravnsborg was driving home to Pierre from a political fundraiser on Sept. 12 when he struck Boever, who walking on the side of a highway near Highmore. He said he knew he hit something and immediately stopped and called 911.
Ravnsborg said he wasn’t sure what he hit, but concluded it was a deer. He searched the scene by himself and with the local sheriff, but found nothing.
He said he didn’t realize he struck a man until the next morning when he stopped at the scene while returning a car loaned to him by the sheriff and found Boever’s body in a ditch.
A toxicology report taken roughly 15 hours after the crash showed no alcohol in Ravnsborg’s system, and people who attended the fundraiser said he was not seen drinking alcohol.
Prosecutors said Ravnsborg was on his phone roughly one minute before the crash and phone records showed it was locked at the moment of impact, but he said the last thing he remembered was turning it off and checking his speedometer..
After a months-long investigation that led to prosecutors filing three traffic misdemeanors in February, Gov. Kristi Noem placed maximum pressure on Ravnsborg to resign, releasing videos of investigators questioning him.
The videos revealed gruesome details, including that detectives believed the body had collided with Ravnsborg’s windshield with such force that part of Boever’s glasses were deposited in the backseat of Ravnsborg’s car.
Reactions to the videos also led the investigators Legislature, dominated by Ravnsborg’s fellow Republicans, to take the first steps in the impeachment process before deciding to wait until the criminal case had run its course.
Ravnsborg adamantly denied throughout the criminal investigation and political pressure campaign that he did anything wrong and that he is still worthy of remaining attorney general.
Attempts to make him a pariah within the party have quieted, at least publicly, and he has even been spotted working booths for local Republican groups at county fairs in recent weeks.
Ravnsborg built his political rise on personal connections in the Republican party as he moved from being a party outsider to its nominee for attorney general in 2018.
State Representative and Ravnsborg ally Steve Haugaard of Sioux Falls says that “when people look at his record of achievements, they will find he’s done a good job.”
Despite no jail time and the relatively small fine, Ravnsborg’s troubles are far from over as he faces the Boever’s wrongful death suit and the possibility of the legislature moving forward with impeachment.
He also faces reelection next year with Marty Jackley, his predecessor, already running for his old job and collecting the support of most of the state’s county prosecutors.