On Tuesday, two months after the South Dakota House of Representatives voted to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) for fatally running over a man and leaving the scene because he thought he had hit a deer, the state Senate convicted him on two impeachment charges in connection with the 2020 incident.
The Senate voted to remove the attorney general from office and to ban Ravnsborg — the first South Dakota official to ever be impeached — from running for office in the state.
The first conviction was for causing the death of 55-year-old Joseph Boever on Sept. 12, 2020. The Senate also found Ravnsborg guilty of misleading investigators and using his position as the state’s top law-enforcement official in an attempt to favorably shape the course of the investigation.
“This person ran down an innocent South Dakotan,” Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, the Senate’s highest-ranking Republican, said during his remarks, the Associated Press reported.
Schoenbeck also condemned Ravnsborg for declining to testify in the Senate trial and failing to disclose “what the hell he was doing” the night of the collision.
Neither Ravnsborg’s office nor his private spokesman immediately responded to messages from The Washington Post late Tuesday. Ravnsborg and his attorney declined to speak to reporters as they exited the room following the vote, the Argus Leader reported.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, said the verdict followed two years of waiting.
“Today felt like a heavy weight was lifted off me,” Nemec, 63, told The Post in an interview. “When the lieutenant governor slammed the gavel on the table, and he announced that the attorney general was removed from office — that gave me a measure of relief.”
Boever’s widow, Jennifer Mohr Boever, did not immediately respond to a message from The Post.
Ravnsborg said he was driving home from a GOP fundraiser in Redfield, S.D., around 10:30 that September night when his car hit a large figure in the dark. Ravnsborg said he believed he had hit a deer and said he searched a ditch along Highway 14 with his cellphone’s flashlight.
“All I could see were pieces of my vehicle laying on and around the roadway,” he said in a statement at the time. The sheriff arrived and surveyed the damage, but Ravnsborg said neither of them suspected that a person had been injured in the crash. Ravnsborg denied drinking the night of the incident.
The next morning, Ravnsborg and his chief of staff drove back to the scene.
“As I walked along the shoulder of the road, I discovered the body of Mr. Boever in the grass just off the roadway,” Ravnsborg said. “It was apparent that Mr. Boever was deceased.”
Soon after finding the man’s body, he added, he drove to the sheriff’s home and reported the new information.
Boever’s family has expressed doubts about Ravnsborg’s story and raised concerns that it took authorities nearly 24 hours to notify them of Boever’s death. Last September, Ravnsborg settled a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Boever’s widow, the Argus Leader reported. The terms of the settlement remain confidential.
In August, Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor traffic charges and avoided jail time.
Earlier this year, a group of lawmakers led by state Rep. Will Mortenson (R) filed two articles seeking to impeach Ravnsborg after the South Dakota Department of Public Safety released two three-hour interviews between Ravnsborg and detectives that raised questions about Ravnsborg’s behavior. Many politicians, including Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), called for his resignation. But Ravnsborg declined to step down.
Ravnsborg, who remained suspended from office pending the outcome of the Senate trial, told The Post in a statement earlier this year that he was looking forward to the trial, “where I believe I will be vindicated.”
Twenty-four senators voted to convict Ravnsborg of the charge involving committing a crime that caused someone’s death, barely reaching the two-thirds majority needed to do so. The malfeasance charge passed with 31 votes, while all lawmakers voted to bar Ravnsborg from holding future office.
Later on Tuesday, Noem took to social media to praise the lawmakers’ decision.
“After nearly 2 years the dark cloud over the Attorney General’s office has been lifted. It is now time to move on and begin to restore confidence in the office,” she tweeted.
Nemec said he and his brother shook hands after the “emotional” day of justice for their cousin concluded.
“[Ravnsborg] won’t be able to live his life as attorney general, but he still has his life,” Nemec told The Post. “He can live some other life. Joe is dead, and Joe will be dead forever. That’s the cold, hard truth.”
Katie Shepherd and Julian Mark contributed to this report.