South Dakota Attorney General Expected to Take Plea Deal

A spokesman said Jason R. Ravnsborg did not plan to resign over the misdemeanor charges, despite calls from both sides of the aisle for him to do so.


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Jason R. Ravnsborg, the South Dakota attorney general who struck and killed a man while driving home from a Republican Party dinner last year, will plead no contest on Thursday to two misdemeanor charges he faces in connection with the case, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

The arrangement will allow Mr. Ravnsborg to avoid a trial that had been scheduled for Thursday, and the third charge against him will be dropped, said the lawyer, Tim Rensch.

The state’s attorney, Michael Moore of Beadle County, confirmed on Wednesday that Mr. Ravnsborg would enter a plea but said he could not give further details because of a gag order imposed by a judge in February.

Mr. Ravnsborg, a Republican, was charged with careless driving, using a mobile electronic device and failing to stay in his lane on the night of the crash that killed Joseph Boever, a 55-year-old pedestrian, on the night of Sept. 12. Each of those charges, which are all misdemeanors, carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

The case has cast a long shadow over state politics in South Dakota. Officials from both sides of the aisle, including Kristi Noem, the Republican governor, have called on Mr. Ravnsborg to resign.

A spokesman said on Wednesday that Mr. Ravnsborg did not intend to resign.

After the crash, Mr. Ravnsborg, who took office in January 2019, initially told the authorities that he had hit something that he believed was most likely a deer. But Ms. Noem urged people to watch videos released by the state in February, which showed Mr. Ravnsborg being confronted by investigators.

That month, the governor said in a statement that with charges filed and the investigation over, “I believe the attorney general should resign.” Three police groups, including the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association, also called on Mr. Ravnsborg to step down, citing a lack of confidence in his ability to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer. And a bipartisan group of legislators filed a resolution proposing the possibility of impeaching Mr. Ravnsborg, writing that the attorney general “must be removed” from office.

Shortly thereafter, on Feb. 25, a judge issued a gag order requiring state officials to stop releasing evidence and to delete the videos.

On Wednesday, Jamie Smith, a Democrat who had sponsored the impeachment resolution, said that the possibility of any future impeachment efforts would depend on what happened with Mr. Ravnsborg’s case.

“I still don’t think he’s able to do his job effectively, and so we’re going to have to see,” he said. “This is a big cloud hanging over that office.”

Days after the crash, Mr. Ravnsborg said in a statement that he had personally found the body of Mr. Boever the morning after the accident. And in the two videos that were briefly released by the state, Mr. Ravnsborg told the story of what he said had happened on the night of the crash.

In the first video, from Sept. 14, Mr. Ravnsborg told investigators that he had been driving home alone from a Republican Party dinner on the night of Sept. 12 and that after passing through the town of Highmore, he had accelerated to about 67 miles per hour on U.S. Highway 14.

“And then, quite frankly, wham,” he said. “I hit, the incident happened. I never saw anything until the impact.” He said he had jumped out of the car and called 911. He then hung up, used his phone’s flashlight and looked around the highway and the ditch.

“I am thinking it is a deer at this point, but I did not see anything,” he told two investigators during the interview, adding that he did not see blood or fur from the impact, just debris from his car.

After the sheriff arrived, he made arrangements for a tow truck and lent Mr. Ravnsborg a vehicle so he could drive home.

The next morning, on his way to return the vehicle, Mr. Ravnsborg and a staff member stopped at the scene of the accident, where Mr. Ravnsborg said he had found a body in a ditch. The body was later identified as Mr. Boever, of Highmore, S.D.

When told by investigators in the first interview that they had found a broken pair of eyeglasses in his car, Mr. Ravnsborg could not say whether they belonged to him, even though he said he did not wear glasses.

In the second interview, on Sept. 30, Mr. Ravnsborg was told that the eyeglasses belonged to Mr. Boever. “That means his face came through your windshield,” one of the investigators said.

Mr. Ravnsborg maintained that he had not seen Mr. Boever that night.

Nick Nemec, one of Mr. Boever’s cousins, said the family had been distressed by what they heard in the videos. “It is even worse than we thought,” Mr. Nemec said in an interview shortly after the videos had been released.

Toxicology results showed no signs that Mr. Ravnsborg had been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash, prosecutors have said. Mr. Boever’s family has questioned why Mr. Ravnsborg was not tested on the night of the collision.

During one of the interviews, Mr. Ravnsborg defended his conduct.

“I believe I did not do anything wrong, and I obviously replayed it in my mind about a thousand times,” he said. “I never saw it — now him, I have learned — or anything I hit, and I tried to react appropriately from there.”

Christine Hauser contributed reporting.

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