Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s journey from night of fatal crash to impeachment
On the 20th month anniversary of Joe Boever’s death, South Dakota lawmakers set out to decide whether the man who killed him, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, should be impeached.
The House of Representatives convened Tuesday at the state Capitol, and after an hour of speeches, Ravnsborg became the first state official in South Dakota history to be impeached.
From the crash itself to the political fallout after, the Ravnsborg-Boever saga has pitted Republican lawmakers against one another while keeping a spotlight on Ravnsborg during the second half of his first term in office and a mourning family caught in the middle.
Here’s a recap of how it all unfolded:
Sept. 12, 2020: Ravnsborg is driving a 2011 Ford Taurus westbound on U.S. Highway 14 when he strikes Boever at approximately 10:30 p.m.
He calls 911, reporting he hit “something” in “the middle of the road,” but he didn’t know what. State officials later release this audio.
Sept. 13, 2020: Highway Patrol is notified of the crash Sunday morning.
Gov. Kristi Noem holds an unscheduled press conference Sunday evening in Sioux Falls. During remarks that last 3 minutes, she and Public Safety Secretary Craig Price say Ravnsborg was involved in a crash, and “there was a fatality.” She says Highway Patrol will handle the investigation overseen by Price. Few details are released as officials cite the ongoing investigation.
Sept. 14, 2020: Ravnsborg releases a two-page statement to dispel “many rumors and stories” circulating about the crash. In it, he outlines his perspective on the circumstances surrounding the incident, saying he thought he hit a deer and didn’t discover Boever’s body until Sunday morning. Ravnsborg’s statement has not been corroborated by officials.
Also on Monday, relatives of Boever confirm he was the victim of the crash and say they believe he was walking to his broken-down truck when he was hit.
The Argus Leader also learns that Ravnsborg has a history of speeding.
The Argus Leader asks for more details from state officials, Ravnsborg himself and Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, who responded to the crash that night. All give no comment.
Sept. 15, 2020: Noem and Price again address media, promising a higher-than-typical level of transparency in the Ravnsborg investigation. In the same press conference, they release few new details, but say agencies in North Dakota, Wyoming and Minnesota are helping in the investigation.
Sept. 18, 2020: The Argus Leader publishes a story looking at the role of the Hyde County sheriff in Ravnsborg’s case and investigation. Sheriff Volek again declines to comment.
Oct. 13, 2020: One month after the crash, the governor and the public safety secretary provide an update on the investigation’s progress. They say it’s still ongoing, but are able to release the 911 call and toxicology report for Ravnsborg and cause of death for Boever.
Oct. 14, 2020: Highway Patrol declines to release the exact time of the 911 call, stating it’s part of the “ongoing investigation.”
Nov. 2, 2020: Price, in a news conference with Gov. Noem at his side, tells reporters the investigation determined Ravnsborg was distracted at the time of the crash, though he declined to describe the nature of the distraction.
According to Highway Patrol’s crash report, released ahead of the press conference, Ravnsborg’s vehicle left the driving lane before striking Boever, who was in the north shoulder of Highway 14 near Highmore when the crash occurred. The investigation also determined Boever was holding a flashlight when he was struck, Price said.
Dec. 16, 2020: Ravnsborg speaks publicly for the first time since the crash, telling reporters he’s confident he did not commit a crime the night of the crash.
“I believe I have not committed any crime. I believe that we will, when we have all the facts, not a selected amount of facts, we’ll know the full story and we’ll make a full statement,” he said.
Dec. 23, 2020: Gov. Noem is not happy with the progress in the case.
After more than three months pass since crash, the governor tells the Argus Leader she isn’t happy that South Dakotans still don’t know if their attorney general will be charged criminally.
The Hyde County State’s Attorney’s Office, being assisted by prosecutors from Beadle, Minnehaha and Pennington Counties, have yet to determine whether the attorney general will be indicted on any charges related Boever’s death.
“I share South Dakotans’ frustration about the amount of time that has taken,” Noem said. “To have more than 100 days go by without resolution on this is a disservice to the victim’s family.”
Led by deputy state’s attorney Emily Sovell, the Hyde County State’s Attorney’s Office isn’t talking.
Dec. 28, 2020: Prosecutors announce they are waiting for testing results on a piece of debris found at the crash scene.
Jan. 21, 2021: Gov. Noem, during a press conference, again notes a charging determination still hasn’t been announced, and calls the slow progress a “grave disservice” to Boever’s family.
She said she’s not been privy to any details since the investigation was handed off to prosecutors.
“We make inquiries on a regular basis and have gotten no answers,” Noem said.
Feb. 18, 2021: Hyde County Deputy State’s Attorney Emily Sovell and Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore in a joint news conference announce Ravnsborg will face three misdemeanor traffic charges stemming from the crash investigation: operating a vehicle while using a mobile or electronic device, a lane driving violation for driving outside of his lane and careless driving.
Each carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and fines of $500 each. None amount to criminal culpability for Boever’s death.
The prosecutors tell reporters the government could not bring manslaughter or vehicular homicide charges against Ravnsborg, because the provable facts in the case did not merit those charges.
Ravnsborg wasn’t under the influence of alcohol or other chemical substances at the time of the crash, and forensics determined while he was using his phone during his drive from Redfield to Pierre, he wasn’t on his phone at the time of impact, they said.
“Recklessness is an extremely high burden for us to establish, and in this case we don’t have it,” Moore said. “I don’t feel good about it, but it’s the right decision.”
Feb. 20, 2021: Rep. Tim Goodwin, a Republican whip in the House, becomes the first lawmaker to publicly call for Ravnsborg’s resignation since charges are announced.
In an op-ed, the Rapid City legislator says Ravnsborg should step down and spare the state what would likely be a lengthy impeachment.
“So what’s best for the citizens of South Dakota? My recommendation is that our Attorney General needs to do the honorable thing and resign his post,” Goodwin wrote. “He needs to do it immediately, so we as a state can move forward.”
Morning of Feb. 23, 2021: With the criminal investigation closed and charges announced, Gov. Noem calls on Ravnsborg to resign that morning. The same day, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers file a resolution proposing the impeachment of the attorney general.
More: Articles of impeachment filed against Ravnsborg, Noem calls for resignation
Noem also promises to release more materials related to the crash investigation later in the day.
On the impeachment resolution, the prime sponsor, Pierre Republican Will Mortenson weighed in:
“This is not political and it is not personal,” he said. “I do not believe Attorney General Ravnsborg belongs in prison, but I know he does not belong in the Office of the Attorney General anymore.”
A privately-paid spokesman for Ravnsborg responds by saying the attorney general has no intention of resigning.
Evening of Feb. 23, 2021: The Department of Public Safety publishes hours of video footage showing North Dakota investigators interrogating Ravnsborg on two different occasions.
The videos reveal that authorities found Boever’s eye-glasses inside of Ravnsborg’s vehicle, and that “his face was in your windshield.” The detectives’ line of questioning suggests Ravnsborg’s account of what happened the night of the crash does not match up with investigators’ findings.
“We found a pair of broken glasses in your vehicle, but they weren’t sunglasses. They almost looked like cheaters of some sort. Black framed glass. Part of them were laying on front passenger floor board, part were laying the back seat, broken in half,” a detective tells Ravnsborg.
Feb. 25, 2021: As the Department of Public Safety prepares to release the entire crash investigation file into Ravnsborg, a Hyde County judge issues a gag order barring government from releasing any more evidence related to the case and directing DPS to scrub the interrogation videos from its website.
Ravnsborg’s defense team had filed a request for the gag order, arguing the release of the materials violated his right to a fair trial. GOP leaders in the state House and Senate had also requested Noem’s administration stop releasing evidence related to the criminal investigation.
More: Judge says state cannot release more evidence in Jason Ravnsborg case
The court order erodes momentum building toward impeachment in the House, with lawmakers interpreting the ruling to also include a prohibition on legislative dialogue related to impeachment.
Mortenson’s impeachment resolution is neutered with an amendment stating the House will not proceed with impeachment proceedings until Ravnsborg’s criminal case is resolved.
Feb. 26, 2021: The South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police, the South Dakota Chiefs’ of Police Association and the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association issue a joint statement announcing they are “unified in requesting” Ravnsborg resign.
“Ravnsborg’s involvement in the death of Joe Boever on September 12th have resulted in a lack of confidence in his ability to effectively carry out his duties as the chief law enforcement officer in South Dakota,” the groups said in the joint announcement.
March 6, 2021: Rapid City lawyer Tim Rensch, the attorney general’s private defense attorney, publicly criticizes the governor for releasing evidence to the public while the case is still pending, and accused her of mistreating his client.
“He’s been treated worse in all of this than anybody else would have been, just by virtue of his position,” Rensch said. “What in the world is going on here? Why is this person being treated unfairly and being treated differently than anybody else?”
“There is a process in place that secures people’s rights, and that most basic right is presumed innocence,” he said.
March 12, 2021: Through his attorney, Ravnsborg pleads not guilty to the charges of using an electronic device while driving, a lane violation and careless driving.
May 3, 2021: The Argus Leader reports a military promotion Ravnsborg had announced via social media a month earlier was being delayed by the Department of Defense, because of the pending criminal matter.
An Army Reservist, Ravnsborg’s rank had been scheduled to move from lieutenant colonel to a full colonel. But the promotion was flagged and would not move ahead for confirmation in the U.S. Senate.
“Soldiers pending investigation by civilian law enforcement authorities and/or civilian criminal proceedings may still be eligible for selection for promotion, but the Army Reserve retains discretion regarding actual promotion,” said Lt. Col. Simon Flake, a top public information officer with the United States Army Reserve, on Monday. “In this case, relevant Army Reserve leaders will monitor the ongoing civilian proceedings and make further decisions at the appropriate time.”
Federal law states the military can place holds on promotions if “a criminal proceeding in a Federal or State court is pending against the officer.”
May 25, 2021: Ravnsborg’s trial date is set for Aug. 27 and 28 in Pierre.
July 9, 2021: Ravnsborg’s defense team suggests Boever deliberately placed himself in front of the attorney general’s vehicle before he died.
Also in the six-page motion filed with the court was a request that health care providers of Boever be ordered to release his psychiatric and psychological records and “information concerning his suicidal ideation.”
The document alleged a pattern of alcoholism and prescription drug use by Boever, and that factored into a “broadening depressive streak” that led Boever’s at least one family to believe he died by suicide, Rensch wrote.
July 20, 2021: Judge John Brown issues letters ordering five separate health care facilities turn over Boever’s psychiatric and psychology records.
Aug. 25, 2021: A day before a scheduled trial, prosecutors announce they’ve reached a plea deal with Ravnsborg, but do not share details of the terms.
Aug. 26, 2021: Ravnsborg’s attorney enters a plea of no contest to driving outside his lane and driving while using an electronic device, both misdemeanor violations. A third careless driving charge is dropped in exchange for the no contest plea. He received fines totaling $1,000.
“We are not satisfied with the outcome,” said Jane Boever, the victim’s sister.
Ravnsborg, who never attended any court hearings related to the criminal case, says he will continue serving as the state’s attorney general, which prompts Noem to for the first-time formally call for Ravnsborg’s impeachment. She also announces she’s ordered the Department of Public Safety to turn over investigation materials to House Speaker Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham.
“If Ravnsborg does not resign, as I believe he should, the Legislature can and should consider the articles of impeachment already brought in the House,” Noem stated in a press release. “I have therefore instructed the state Department of Public Safety to provide Speaker Gosch a complete copy of the investigation file in the coming days to assist the House in its important work.”
Sept. 1, 2021: Price turns over investigation materials to Gosch, along with a letter outlining why he believed the evidence gathered should have merited second degree manslaughter charges against Ravnsborg.
More: Public safety head: Jason Ravnsborg should’ve been charged with manslaughter
Sept. 9, 2021: With the criminal case resolved, Gosch along with House Majority Leader Kent Peterson, R-Salem, and House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls, call for a special session of the Legislature to consider whether the attorney general should be impeached. Two-thirds of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate must support the special session before it can be convened.
Sept. 13, 2021: Gosch tells the Argus Leader he will appoint a nine-member panel to vet Ravnsborg conduct and make a determination on impeachment for the full House to consider.
He also accuses the governor and her administration from “meddling” in the Legislature’s work.
Sept. 27, 2021: Legislative leaders announce a special session will be held Nov. 9, 2021 when lawmakers are already at the state Capitol to consider redistricting proposals.
Sept. 29, 2021: Attorneys representing the Boever family announce they’d settled a civil case against Ravnsborg, but decline to disclose terms of the agreement publicly.
Nov. 2, 2021: Gosch announces he will chair the House Select Committee on Investigation, voting only in the event of a tie. Other committee members are:
House Majority Leader Kent Peterson, R-Salem
Rep. Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls
Rep. Ryan Cwach, D-Yankton
Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton
Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls
Rep. Doug Barthel, R-Sioux Falls
Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton
Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids
Nov. 1, 2021: A week before the special session is set to start, Volek dies while visiting a friend in North Carolina.
Sources tell the Argus Leader he succumbed to natural causes.
Nov. 9, 2021: During the special session, the House of Representatives votes 58-10 authorizing the formation of the House Select Committee on Investigation, which is charged with investigating the conduct of Ravnsborg related to the crash.
Dec. 16, 2021: Rapid City attorney Sara Frankenstein is selected by the committee to serve as its special prosecutor. Frankenstein is a partner at Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson and Ashmore.
Dec. 28, 2021: The House Select Committee on Investigation meets in Pierre to begin reviewing evidence. Despite Gosch’s vow to make the process “as transparent as humanly possible,” the committee meets for two days behind closed doors. The nine-member committee ends the two days of closed door meetings in a vote to broaden the investigation, including a request for discovery and scheduling interviews with law enforcement officials.
Jan. 17: The committee begins a third round of meetings, with the first day again closed to the public. Open testimony begins the next day, with committee members grilling law enforcement officials who conducted the investigation. On the next day, a North Dakota detective tells lawmakers that he believes Ravnsborg knew he hit someone because he walked by the body twice, and Boever’s remains were 2 feet off the shoulder and a flashlight he had been carrying was still on.
Jan. 27: Members of the committee react angrily after some of them are targeted by robocalls made to their voters urging them to support impeachment. There is some evidence linking the calls to Noem supporters, but the governor denies involvement.
Jan. 31: Committee members emerge from another closed-door session to announce that they plan to request the testimony of Tim Bornmann, Ranvsborg’s chief of staff, and the prosecutors who decided not to press felony charges in the crash.
Feb. 3: Ravnsborg makes a rare public statement about the case, telling the Argus Leader that “It’s political, and it’s been political from the start.”
March 10: The committee announces it has finished gathering information and will issue a final report on whether to recommend impeachment.
March 14: Noem denies involvement in a billboard campaign in Sioux Falls that accuses some lawmakers on the Select Committee of covering for Ravnsborg. The billboards prompt another investigation into who is paying for them.
March 28: The committee releases a recommendation advising that Ravnsborg should not be impeached. The vote is 6-2.
April 4: The South Dakota Highway Patrol releases additional records showing Ravnsborg almost caused two accidents with law enforcement officials in the weeks preceding to his accident that killed Boever.
April 6: Law enforcement officials hold a briefing with lawmakers to explain the evidence.
“Attorney General Ravnsborg walked past Mr. Boever’s naked body twice with a light on as he searched for what he struck,” Trooper John Berndt told lawmakers.
That was confirmed by cell phone data.
April 11: Just 13 hours before his impeachment hearing is scheduled to begin, Ravnsborg releases a letter to lawmakers. He accuses Noem of trying to force him out so that she can install her own attorney general. Some lawmakers are aghast at the letter, which contained numerous grammatical errors and poor writing.
April 12: The House narrowly votes to impeach Ravnsborg, setting the stage for a Senate trial. At its earliest, the trial can’t begin until early May. Ravnsborg releases a statement later that day saying he will be vindicated in a Senate trial.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Timeline: From night of AG Ravnsborg’s fatal crash to impeachment