AG Seemed to Know He Killed a Man With His Car, Say Agents

·6 min read
Bloomberg
Bloomberg

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg knew that he had run over and killed a man, a pair of North Dakota investigators told a South Dakota legislative panel considering impeachment proceedings on Wednesday afternoon.

North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NDBCI) Special Agents Arnie Rummel and Joe Arenz, who interviewed Ravnsborg twice in the weeks following the 2020 fatal crash, said there was a “very realistic possibility” that AG knew that he had struck a person and actually saw the body of Joe Boever, the 55-year-old Highmore, South Dakota, man whom he killed.

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“He walked by a flashlight that’s on,” Rummel said. “There’s a body that’s laying within two feet of the roadway and obviously deceased and he’s all white, there isn’t any blood being pumped in him, and the fact white is reflective, I believe that he’d have to see him.”

Videos of their 2020 interviews with Ravnsborg, with the agents telling him that some people thought he was lying about having no idea he’d killed a man until returning to the scene of the crash the following day, had been posted on a South Dakota Department of Public Safety website for a few days last year. The judge hearing the criminal case against Ravnsborg ordered them taken down. But copies still exist online.

On Wednesday, the agents told South Dakota lawmakers that not only did some people think Ravnsborg was lying, but that the two of them felt the same way.

“We felt that what he had said meant that he had seen it,” Arenz told the South Dakota House of Representatives Select Committee on Investigation, which is now conducting the first impeachment proceedings in state history.

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The NDBCI agents had been brought across state lines to assist South Dakota authorities after the Sept. 12, 2020, crash because the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) reports to the attorney general—Ravnsborg.

In the days following the crash, he had asked staff in the DCI office what kind of information could be retrieved from his phone.

The NDBCI agents drove to the crash site the next day, Sept. 13, after Ravnsborg, who’d returned to the area to return a car he had borrowed from the Hyde County sheriff, reported discovering the body earlier in the day.

The agents said they felt Ravnsborg knew almost immediately what had happened. They also noted Boever’s DNA was discovered on the windshield of Ravnsborg’s car and Boever’s glasses were found inside the vehicle.

Ravnsborg has denied knowing what he hit. When he called 911 just after the crash, he first identified himself as the attorney general, then said he had “hit something” and it was “in the middle of the road.”

Crash investigators said the crash actually occurred on the north shoulder of the road around 10:30 p.m. Boever had been walking back to Highmore, apparently after checking on his pickup, which had run off the highway a few hours earlier.

In a statement on South Dakota Attorney General Office letterhead issued on Sept. 14, Ravnsborg said he “didn’t see what I hit” and that he’d believed he had struck a large animal, possibly a deer. Deer-vehicle collisions are not uncommon in the prairie state and some had occurred near the crash scene before.

The AG has resisted calls to resign, including from Republican Gov. Kristi Noem. On Wednesday morning, Noem—who called on Ravnsborg to resign and on the Legislature to impeach him if would not—was sharply critical of Republicans on the House committee who she seemed to suggest were more concerned with protecting the AG than holding him to account.

“It grieves me that because of a political agenda, some legislators on the committee are attacking the integrity of our law enforcement officers,” she told the AP.

The impeachment hearings started several hours later, and the two veteran North Dakota lawmen were the central players. It was the third straight day of hearings, which resumed after they stopped in March 2021 to allow the criminal case against Ravnsborg to be completed.

Austin Goss, the Capitol Bureau reporter for three South Dakota TV stations, and Joe Sneve, a reporter for the Argus Leader newspaper, provided running coverage of the hearing on Twitter.

Rummel said the agents believe the attorney general said things during the interviews that were “not accurate” and showed that he had not fully revealed what he saw on that late-summer night on U.S. Highway 14 just west of the small town of Highmore in central South Dakota.

Initially, Ravnsborg said he had not been using either of the two cellphones he had with him. He later admitted he had called his father and read stories on the internet while driving, a violation of the state law that prohibits drivers from using electronic devices. His body language and the way he phrased responses to their questions also raised questions in their minds.

Ravnborg claimed he was in the westbound lane, but all evidence from the scene indicates he struck Boever as he walked along the north shoulder of the road. His body was found very close to the road surface.

Ravnsborg said he used his cellphone as a light that night, and data from the phone revealed he had walked about 800 steps.

The investigators said Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, whom they interviewed three times, admitted he saw a light in the grass just off the highway but did not check on it, thinking it was a reflection off a piece ripped from Ravnsborg’s red 2011 Ford Taurus in the crash.

In fact, it was a flashlight that Boever had been carrying. It was still on, shooting up light “like a beacon” when the North Dakota investigators arrived at the crash scene in the late afternoon of the following day.

Volek, who after Ravnsborg’s collision lent the AG his own car to complete his trip home to Pierre from a Republican political dinner in Redfield, South Dakota, never spoke publicly about his actions that night.

He died of natural causes in North Carolina on Nov. 2, 2021. He was 69 years old and had been in declining health.

After he pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanors, and a third count was dismissed, Ravnsborg was fined $500 for each charge and ordered to pay court costs. He reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount of money, with Boever’s wife Jenny, who had filed a civil suit.

Rummel and Arenz said if the fatal crash had occurred in North Dakota, Ravnsborg would have been charged with a felony based on the evidence they collected and observed.

But with his criminal and civil cases behind him, Ravnsborg has remained in office and indeed has said he will seek a second term. Another Republican, former Attorney General Marty Jackley, is seeking the nomination from the South Dakota Republican State Convention this summer.

A call and a text request to Mike Deaver of Salt Lake City, who has served as a spokesman for Ravnsborg, were not returned.

No further hearings have been announced by the committee. For the impeachment to proceed, the committee would have to recommend it to the full House. If a majority of House members then voted to impeach Ravnsborg, a trial would be held by the state Senate, where it would take a two-thirds vote to convict him and remove him from office.

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