South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg is facing calls to leave office after newly released video evidence has raised questions about his conduct in the car crash that killed a pedestrian last year.
It’s the latest fallout from the Sept. 12 incident in which Ravnsborg, while driving home from an evening Republican fundraiser, fatally struck 55-year-old Joe Boever along the side of U.S. Highway 14 near Highmore, S.D. In his initial 911 call, as well as in a subsequent two-page public statement, Ravnsborg said he believed his car had hit a deer or some other large animal and did not know he had killed a man until he returned to the accident scene the following day and discovered Boever’s body.
Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday called for Ravnsborg — who faces three misdemeanor charges — to resign. Later that day, a bipartisan group of South Dakota House lawmakers filed a resolution to impeach him over acts “causing” and “following” Boever’s death, writing that “during his reporting of the collision and the resulting investigation, [Ravnsborg] undertook actions unbecoming the Attorney General.”
“Now that the investigation has closed and charges have been filed, I believe the Attorney General should resign,” Noem tweeted. “I have reviewed the material we are releasing, starting today, and I encourage others to review it as well.”
The attorney general’s office told NPR by email that it does not comment on any ongoing investigation or litigation. According to the Argus Leader, a private spokesman for Ravnsborg issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the attorney general has no intention of resigning and that “at no time has this issue impeded his ability to do the work of the office.”
Videos of two police interrogations totaling about three hours, released by the state’s Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, show investigators from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation raising questions about Ravnsborg’s account and pushing back on his assertions that he did not know what he had struck until the next day. For instance, they noted, he said he had been driving in the middle of the road but was really on the shoulder.
“I know you understand the process. I’m not second-guessing that at all,” an investigator says in one of the videos. “What I’m saying is, if you look at it from our perspective, things haven’t been straightforward, by any means. In fact, some people would call you a liar. … I’m not calling you a liar. I’m saying there’s some mistakes made here though. You would have to agree to that.”
Ravnsborg responded that he was not a liar and did not know what he would have done differently.
“I believe that I was in the road. I believe I set my phone down, shut the radio off and was looking to put the cruise control on,” he said. “And I didn’t find him. I did not find him until the next day.”
At one point, investigators said that a pair of broken glasses was found inside the attorney general’s car and that the glasses could have gotten there only by Boever’s face entering through the windshield.
“We know that his face came through your windshield,” one of the investigators said, in an exchange reported by South Dakota Public Broadcasting. “That’s, I would think, substantially clear that that’s what happened. We also have the imprint on the hood where his body, part of his body, likely was riding. At some point [in] time, he rolls off, takes out the mirror and slides into the ditch.”
A visibly shaken Ravnsborg maintained that he did not see the glasses and did not know he had hit a human until the next day.
“I mean it pains me tremendously to hear that his face went through the windshield,” Ravnsborg said. “But I didn’t look over. I was trying to stay alive myself at that point.”
He also said that he did not see any blood as a result of Boever’s face coming through the windshield, which he would have expected. Investigators refuted that idea, saying they believed he died on impact.
At another moment in the interrogation, investigators pressed Ravnsborg about whether he had seen the flashlight Boever was carrying, which he repeatedly denied. They said the bright light would have been “hard to miss” in the darkness, noting that the light was still on when they arrived at the scene the next day and that a witness had seen Boever walking with it.
Later on, an investigator told Ravnsborg that he had assumed the role of Boever in a re-creation of the scene, wearing similar clothing and carrying the same flashlight to see what Ravnsborg would have been able to see.
“It’s pretty apparent that you were not looking at the road when that happened,” he said.
Ravnsborg repeated his belief that he had been looking at the radio and the speedometer to “lock in” cruise control at the time.
“I know how some of this looks, but I did not see a man until the next day,” he said.
Investigators also questioned Ravnsborg about whether he had been distracted by his cellphone, at one point saying they had data showing he had logged in to his Yahoo email account and pulled up a RealClearPolitics article just minutes before he called 911 to report the crash.
“When we look at that, our concern is, everything that we’re seeing here is, it’s appearing you were on your phone reading political stuff at the time,” one said.
Ravnsborg insisted he had put the phone down, saying it was in the center console before the crash.
He said at one point that if he had known the victim was a man, he would have stayed behind to try to render aid or get an ambulance to the scene.
“I’m a military guy. You do not leave people on the battlefield. You do not leave people behind,” Ravnsborg said.
Later, when asked how he would do on a polygraph test, Ravnsborg said he would pass but admitted he had asked his “guys” how it would work and had been told that the fact that he now knows it was a man he hit could pose a potential issue.
He said he was willing to travel to North Dakota to take a polygraph test and offered his continued cooperation.
“The hardest part of this is I wouldn’t do anything different,” he said. “I didn’t know that this was going to happen to me, obviously. … I called 911. I got the sheriff out there. I thought I was doing the right things. Obviously I didn’t see everything that I should have seen probably, or not, but I did not see him until the next day.”