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Family of Man Fatally Hit by South Dakota AG Say Fines Not 'Adequate' Punishment

Newsweek logo Newsweek 8/26/2021 Rebecca Klapper
a man wearing a suit and tie sitting at a table: South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will avoid a trial and take a plea deal for misdemeanor traffic charges in a crash last year in which he hit and killed a man who was walking along a rural highway, a prosecutor said Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. In this Feb. 23, 2014, file photo Attorney General Ravnsborg speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D. © Dirk Lammers, File/AP Photo South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will avoid a trial and take a plea deal for misdemeanor traffic charges in a crash last year in which he hit and killed a man who was walking along a rural highway, a prosecutor said Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. In this Feb. 23, 2014, file photo Attorney General Ravnsborg speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The family of a man fatally struck by South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg last September said the judge only fining Ravnsborg was not a significant enough penalty.

"We do not feel a couple of fines is adequate punishment for killing a man," said Jane Boever, the sister of the victim.

Jane Boever accused Ravnsborg of hitting her brother, Joseph Boever, and then using his position and resources to string the case along. She said Ravnsborg has only shown "arrogance toward the law" and no remorse.

Jennifer Boever, Joseph Boever's widow, said the attorney general's "actions are incomprehensible and ... cannot be forgiven."

Jane Boever said her brother was "left behind carelessly" the night he died.

"Our brother lay in the ditch for 12 hours," she said. "This is inexcusable."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Ravnsborg avoided any jail time Thursday after pleading no contest to two misdemeanor traffic charges for a crash last year in which he struck and killed Boever who was walking along a rural highway.

Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to charges of making an illegal lane change and using a phone while driving, which each carry a sentence of up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. He had been charged with three misdemeanors, but prosecutors dropped a careless driving charge as part of the deal.

Circuit Judge John Brown ordered no jail time for Ravnsborg, instead fining him $500 for each of the two counts and ordering him to pay court costs. Brown also ordered Ravsnborg to "do a significant public service event" in each of the next five years near the date of Boever's death — granting a request from the Boever family. But he put that on hold after Ravnsborg's attorney objected that it was not allowed by statute.

Brown was to consider that argument and rule later.

Ravnsborg didn't attend the hearing — he didn't have to and was represented by his attorney, Tim Rensch. That angered the family of the man Ravnsborg struck.

"Why, after having to wait nearly a year, do we not have the chance to face him?" Jane Boever asked the court.

Rensch pushed back hard on the family's criticism, calling the attorney general an "honorable man." Rensch said Ravsnborg had been consistent from the beginning that he simply did not see Joseph Boever. And he noted that the case was "not a homicide case, and it's not a manslaughter case," as prosecutors had said in bringing the misdemeanor charges.

"Accidents happen, people die. It should not happen. No one wants anybody to die," he said.

The Republican attorney general was driving home to Pierre from a political fundraiser on Sept. 12 when he struck Boever, who walking on the side of a highway. In a 911 call after the crash, Ravnsborg was initially unsure of what he hit, then concluded it was a deer. He said he didn't realize he struck a man until he returned to the crash scene the next day and discovered the body of Boever, who was killed at age 55.

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.

After a months-long investigation 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 after the crash. They revealed gruesome details, including that detectives believed Boever's 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.

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. Ravnsborg told investigators that the last thing he remembered before impact was turning off the radio and looking down at the speedometer.

Throughout the criminal investigation and political pressure campaign from his own party, Ravnsborg has adamantly denied he did anything heinous. He has insisted he had no idea he hit a man until returning to the crash site and that he is still worthy of remaining the state's attorney general.

A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for the purposes of sentencing. However, criminal defense attorneys said it is unlikely Ravnsborg will be sentenced to any jail time.

"It's not an admission of guilt, but a finding of guilt," said criminal defense attorney Ryan Kolbeck, who has been watching the case but isn't involved in it. "You rarely see jail time in these cases."

However, the crash and investigation has opened a divide among Republicans. Noem has tried repeatedly to force Ravnsborg from office and make him a pariah within the party, but he has retained support among some GOP circles. The attorney general has even been spotted working booths for local Republican groups at county fairs in recent weeks.

"When people look at his record of achievements, they will find he's done a good job," said Republican state Rep. Steve Haugaard, an ally of the attorney general.

The attorney general had built his political rise on personal connections in the party. It was his dutiful attendance at local GOP events like the one he was returning from when he struck Boever that propelled him from being a party outsider to winning the Republican nomination for attorney general in 2018.

Despite the plea deal, Ravnsborg's troubles are far from over. Boever's widow has indicated that she plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Ravnsborg. And Ravnsborg's popular predecessor, Marty Jackley, is already running for his old job and has collected the support of most of the state's county prosecutors. Perhaps most pressing for Ravnsborg is that legislators are once again considering moving forward with impeachment proceedings.

Karl Racine, Leslie Rutledge, Ken Paxton standing next to a man in a suit and tie: South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor traffic charges, which the family of the man he struck found to be inadequate. (L-R) Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine, Ark. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Ravnsborg listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court September 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images © Alex Wong/Getty Images South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor traffic charges, which the family of the man he struck found to be inadequate. (L-R) Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine, Ark. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Ravnsborg listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court September 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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