South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg pleads not guilty to misdemeanors in death of pedestrian
PIERRE, South Dakota – Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg pleaded not guilty to killing a pedestrian on Friday, six months to the day after authorities say he struck Joseph Boever, who was walking on the side of the highway, with his vehicle.
Ravnsborg was scheduled to make a first appearance, but his lawyer Tim Rensch, asked to move the hearing up to an arraignment, in which defendants enter a plea.
“We might as well do that when we’re all here, your honor,” Rensch, who is from Rapid City, told Judge John Brown.
One person who wasn’t there was Ravnsborg. Because he is charged with class-2 misdemeanors, he was not required to attend.
He faces three misdemeanor charges of careless driving, driving outside of his lane and operating a vehicle while on a mobile device. Each carries a potential $500 fine and 30-day jail sentence.
Brown set a scheduling hearing for 60 days. At that time, the parties will review the amount of discovery in the case and determine a time for when a trial date could be set.
Rensch told Brown that it would take time to go through the materials collected during the investigation into the accident.
“In some cases, there’s a mountain of discovery,” he said. “In this case, there’s a mountain range of discovery.”
Rensch declined to comment on the case.
Friday’s hearing was attended by several of Boever’s relatives, including his widow, Jenny, his mother and siblings. They were accompanied by Sioux Falls lawyer Scott Heidepriem, who is representing Boever’s family in a civil lawsuit. Heidepriem declined to comment.
Boever’s cousin, Nick Nemec, called the not-guilty plea “troubling.”
“They’ve got him dead to rights using his cellphone while driving,” he said., “He was obviously out of his lane. The skid marks on Highway 14 are still visible.”
“I guess if he wants to pay an attorney to fight it, that’s his prerogative,” Nemec added. “I think he’s beating a dead horse on that deal.”
Hyde County Deputy State’s Attorney Emily Sovell charged Ravnsborg with the three misdemeanors after a five-month investigation into the Sept. 12, 2020 crash. Sovell, along with Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore and Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo, concluded that more serious charges of reckless driving were not warranted.
That decision upset the members of Boever’s family. A more serious charge of reckless driving would have exposed Ravnsborg to a felony manslaughter charge.
But under South Dakota law, authorities would have needed to prove that Ravnsborg knew his conduct was so egregious that it could result in someone’s death.
Authorities say Ravnsborg had used his phone shortly before he hit the 55-year-old Boever. The crash occurred on Highway 14, just west of Highmore, as Ravnsborg was returning to Pierre from a political dinner in Redfield.
Under the direction of Gov. Kristi Noem, the South Dakota Department of Public Safety released two interviews of Ravnsborg that were conducted by North Dakota investigators. In one, investigators accused Ravnsborg of being on his phone reading a news story at almost the same time he struck Boever. Earlier in the interview, Ravnsborg had denied using his phone to search the Internet or use email.
Investigators also contended that Boever’s glasses were on Ravnsborg’s passenger seat, indicating this his face had smashed through the vehicle’s windshield.
Following the unprecedented release of those interviews, Judge John Brown ordered them to be removed and that no further evidence be released in the case. The move to release the interviews was criticized by Rensch and prosecutors.
Ravnsborg reported the incident that night, saying he’d hit something in the middle of the road. The dispatcher who took the call suggested it might have been a deer, and dispatched Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek to the scene, which was near Volek’s home.
Volek issued Ravnsborg a deer tag for auto insurance purposes, lent the attorney general a personal vehicle and called a tow truck to take the vehicle to Pierre.
Ravnsborg says he found Boever’s body the next day when he was returning Volek’s vehicle. He told investigators he didn’t see Boever’s body on the night of the accident, nor a flashlight that investigators say was also on.