Jason Ravnsborg car crash: South Dakota AG charged with misdemeanors, victim's family accuses state of leniency
Ravnsborg was charged with 3 misdemeanors for operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile device, driving outside a lane and careless driving
On September 12, 2020, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg reported hitting a deer with his car while returning from a Republican fundraiser. However, it was later established that Ravnsborg had allegedly killed a 55-year-old pedestrian called Joseph Boever, whose body was found on September 13, 2020. Five months later, officials said Thursday, February 18, 2021, that the top prosecutor will face only misdemeanor charges, no felony counts.
Emily Sovell, deputy Hyde County state’s attorney, told reporters on Thursday that Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors for operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile device, driving outside a lane, and careless driving. Each of the charges is a reportedly class 2 misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
Why no felony charges?
Sovell, who was joined by Beadle County State's Attorney Michael Moore, said that she found that Ravnsborg's conduct did not meet the high threshold to charge him with a felony. Sovell said there was no proof Ravnsborg was impaired and there was not enough evidence to charge Ravnsborg with either vehicular homicide or manslaughter.
Sovell claimed that she had shielded her office and investigators from political influence and explained that under South Dakota's narrowly defined vehicular homicide statute, an offender would have to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. "There was a very, very thorough investigation conducted for every step that was taken by him in the hours preceding and nothing was indicative of him being under the influence of any alcohol or drugs," she said.
Ravnsborg, in a statement, said he appreciated "more than ever, that the presumption of innocence placed within our legal system continues to work." He said, "I have and will continue to pray for Joe Boever and his family. I cannot imagine their pain and loss and I do send my deepest condolences to them.”
Tire tracks are visible in a ditch on Hwy 14 where Joe Boever's truck sat Saturday night when he was killed while walking back to the vehicle outside of Highmore, SD. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was involved in the fatal incident. Thread below for Argus coverage so far: pic.twitter.com/3rh9f956GT— Erin Bormett (@EEBormett) September 14, 2020
No justice for the family?
"It doesn't surprise me one bit, but it does disappoint me," Boever's cousin Victor Nemec told NBC News. "This state is well known nationwide for being lenient when it comes to elected officials getting in trouble."
But trouble may not be over for Ravnsborg. Despite avoiding the more serious felony charges, the Grand Forks Herald reported that Scott Heidepriem, Sioux Falls attorney confirmed he was representing Jenny Boever, Joseph's widow, in an imminent civil lawsuit. "The family deserves answers to what happened that night," said Heidepriem. "The attorney general should be held accountable for his actions just like anyone else."
"This is a tragic accident which took the life of Mr. Boever way too soon," said Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore. "The victim's remedy is in civil court, not criminal court."
Today, 2-12-21 marks the five month anniversary of cousin Joe Boever's death at the hands of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. Joe's body laid undiscovered less than 2 feet from the edge of the road for 10 hours on the night of 9-12/13-20. Joe is buried in Dell Rapids. pic.twitter.com/tKAvu8Rx6H— drugstorehehe🐝 (@hotdadparty) February 12, 2021
Around 10:30 p.m. on the night of September 12, 2020, Ravnsborg reported to the Hyde County Sheriff's Office that he had hit a deer while driving on the U.S. Highway 14. The body of Boever was discovered the following morning.
The attorney general was returning from a Republican fundraiser at Roosters Bar & Grill in Redfield. Ravnsborg was driving a red 2011 Ford Taurus when he struck Boever, who was carrying a light, investigators said.
According to Nemec, Boever called him for help at about 7:50 p.m. on September 12, 2020, after accidentally having driven his truck into a ditch at Highway 14. He gave his cousin a ride home. Nemec said that he left Boever's house between 9 and 9:30 p.m. and that he believes Boever returned to his car after that to retrieve something from the vehicle.
Out to Highmore to see the SD AG Jason Ravnsborg crash site first hand. That's Nick Nemec, victim Joe Boever's cousin, standing near where he thinks Boever's body came to rest after Ravnsborg hit him with his car Saturday night. pic.twitter.com/J0LhLoADxA— Jeremy Fugleberg (@jayfug) September 17, 2020
As per reports, Ravnsborg’s cell phone data also confirmed that 15 seconds after striking Boever, he stopped his vehicle. After another 14 seconds, he unlocked his phone, and then another 16 seconds passed before he phoned 911. Ravnsborg called 911 at 10:24 p.m., introduced himself to the dispatcher as “the attorney general” and said the object he hit was “in the middle of the road.” said he didn't know what he had struck, but it was possible he had struck an animal.
"It was a very dark night," Sovell said. "This was in a rural area. It's not well-lit by any artificial means. I think there's a lot of individuals who are passerby or investigated that they don't realize why he wasn't observed on the night in question. It was a dark night, and we don't have the answer to that."