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Victim’s family told investigators their concerns about cover-up in Ravnsborg case

A cache of over 200 investigative documents — including video, photos, and transcripts — was released by the South Dakota committee that, days ago, recommended not impeaching Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his role in a fatal crash in September 2020. The file reveals the AG's private communications with staff, his use of a cellphone and new details on pedestrian Joe Boever.

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North Dakota investigators work at the crash scene west of Highmore, South Dakota, in September 2020.
Contributed / House Select Committee on Investigation
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PIERRE, S.D. — A new cache of documents released by a House select committee on impeachment reveals early anxieties by Joe Boever's family that South Dakota authorities would "cover-up" accountability for the fatal crash that killed their cousin.

Boever's cousins, Nick and Victor Nemec, told investigators the night after Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg struck and killed their cousin walking along the highway that they feared Ravnsborg's position would influence the case.

The Nemecs "were adamant that the crash was going to be another cover-up as South Dakota was known for that," according to a supplemental report from North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Supervisory Special Agent Arnie Rummel.

The House Select Committee released on Wednesday, March 30, the 200-plus court files compiled by North Dakota investigators. The trove contains audio and video, as well as photographs of Boever's eyeglasses found in Ravnsborg's car and a flashlight Boever had been carrying the night he was struck.

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Eye glasses belonging to Joe Boever rest in the back of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's personal vehicle, as photographed by an officer with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
North Dakota BCI

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Arguments against and for impeachment

The committee on Monday, March 28, recommended not to bring articles of impeachment against Ravnsborg. All six GOP members on the committee recommended against impeachment.

Republicans on the committee say Ravnsborg did not commit impeachable offenses in his conduct, arguing that even his use of a cellphone — which was locked at the moment of impact — lacked an "evil or corrupt" motive.

A separate minority report, backed by the committee's two Democrats, says the Republican attorney general committed "malfeasance in office" and urged impeachment of Ravnsborg when the full House of Representatives meets on April 12. They charge that Ravnsborg "abused his power of office," alluding not only to his use of office resources but also his access to police officials to help with his case.

The report documents that Rep. Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish, assisted Ravnsborg in crafting an initial news release about the crash that was printed on official letterhead. According to investigators, Odenbach, a law school acquaintance of Ravnsborg, said Ravnsborg was a "nice kind [of] patriot."

Gov. Kristi Noem has repeatedly called for Ravnsborg to resign his post, and criticized the committee for voting against impeachment. Noem spokesman Ian Fury on Twitter Wednesday evening cast doubt on the fullness of the committee's release of documents . He said a particularly caustic text message from former Ravnsborg campaign adviser Matthew Samp wasn't included in the committee's investigative file. In fact, Samp's text where he told Ravnsborg "At least you hit a democrat," was included in the investigative file.

Other private communications also were included in Wednesday's release. Those include Ravnsborg's phone call with Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen, who "prayed over the phone" with Ravnsborg on speaker, as well as a write-up of Ravnsborg's discussion with Lincoln County State's Attorney Thomas Wollman about the case.

New details from crash and aftermath

In the Sept. 12, 2020, incident, Ravnsborg drove his vehicle onto the shoulder of U.S. Highway 14 west of Highmore, South Dakota, and struck and killed pedestrian Boever, 55, of Highmore. Ravnsborg was on his way back to Pierre from a Republican fundraiser in Redfield, South Dakota.

Ravnsborg last year pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor unsafe driving charges, including use of a cellphone on the night he struck and killed Boever.

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The report offers new details from the night of the crash, including the interaction between Ravnsborg and Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek.

On the night of the crash, Volek loaned Ravnsborg his personal vehicle to return home to Pierre. However, Volek said he needed to perform a traffic stop on Ravnsborg 2 miles down the road, as Ravnsborg had forgotten to hand over his keys to his Ford Taurus, which sat along the roadside awaiting a tow.

Volek, according to two interviews with North Dakota detectives, also spotted a "light glowing" near Ravnsborg's Taurus while the sheriff waited for Black Hills Towing to send a wrecker out from Pierre. An investigative video first released in February 2021 by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety documented that an illuminated flashlight Boever had been carrying lay in the grass near Boever's body.

But, according to Wednesday's release of documents, Volek said he believed the light to be coming from Ravnsborg's vehicle.

Volek, 69, died in November 2021.

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South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's Ford Taurus, his personal vehicle, sits in a state-owned garage during an inspection for evidence related to a fatal crash on Sept. 12, 2020.
North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation

In one instance revealed by Wednesday's document release, Division of Criminal Investigator employee Brent Gromer wrote down an unusual conversation he had with Ravnsborg just days after the crash.

"He started to ask me questions about digital forensics on the phones," wrote Gromer, who'd been called into Ravnsborg's office.

The report documents Boever's family's concerns about his alcohol consumption and mental health. Ramsey County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kelly Mills observed, for example, that Boever was "overmedicating" on his bipolar medication. A neighbor of Boever's, Shalon Arenholz, said that six weeks prior to the crash, Boever "nearly drank himself to death."

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Driver Janet Kopecky, who passed by the crash scene roughly an hour after the impact, told investigators that the night was "very dark, but with good visibility."

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Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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