Bender: Something's rotten in the state of South Dakota

After slithering free of manslaughter charges, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg — who mowed down pedestrian Joe Boever of Highmore, South Dakota, on Sept. 12, 2020 — stubbornly clings to office in the face of a June impeachment, columnist Tony Bender writes.

Tony Bender
Tony Bender
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“With liberty and justice for all.”

Oh were it true. In reality though, the best American justice is reserved for the powerful. Sure, occasionally they'll convict a guy like Bernie Madoff, but that's only because he ripped off the rich. None of the mortgage bankers involved in the 2008 Ponzi scheme went to jail, however, because they'd only defrauded “the little people.” It helps if you're at the upper echelons of government. The obvious example is Donald J. Trump, whose list of misdeeds is longer than a sumo wrestler's grocery list.

But the latest odor wafting up from the south isn't from Florida, and it's not the stench of thawing lagoons. It's the olfactorius sludge surrounding South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who mowed down pedestrian Joe Boever of Highmore, South Dakota, on Sept. 12, 2020.

After slithering free of manslaughter charges — he was cited for using a cellphone while driving, and an illegal lane change, resulting in two $500 fines — Ravnsborg stubbornly clings to office in the face of a June impeachment.

Jason Ravnsborg

His is the face of entitlement. Some of the 27 traffic stops he was subject to since 1996 began with something like, “Do you know who I am?” The night of the accident, after attending a Republican fundraiser in Redfield, South Dakota, Ravnsborg made it a point in his 911 call to immediately identify himself as the AG, expecting, obviously, special treatment. He got it.


All four wheels of Ravnsborg's car were on the shoulder when Boever was violently struck, amputating a leg, sending his head through the windshield — his glasses ended up inside the vehicle. Still, Ravnsborg, the top law enforcement officer in the state, claimed it might have been a deer. Boever wasn't known to wear antlers, however, because he wasn't an insurrectionist, and deer don't wear glasses. Experienced Midwestern drivers will inevitably strike a wide variety of wildlife over the years and, almost without fail, they'll know what they hit. But for Ravnsborg, it was a mystery.

Boever's body was flung to the shoulder. Accident reconstructionists determined that the flashlight Boever was carrying was still on, but based on his own testimony, Ravnsborg walked past the body and didn't see it. Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek saw the light but said he didn't investigate further.

With Clay County State’s Attorney Alexis Tracy by his side, Vargo successfully argued against Ravnsborg and his counsel, Sioux Falls attorney Mike Butler and impeachment defense expert Ross Garber.
A Republican-dominated state Senate heard evidence, overcame any instinct to protect one of their own and voted to remove Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office after he struck and killed a pedestrian with his car in 2020.
Since Tuesday's trial, his photo and biography have been removed from the South Dakota Attorney General's website.
Impeachment trial of Jason Ravnsborg lasts only a day.

We're left to decide whether ineptness or corruption was involved. Curiously, Volek loaned Ravnsborg his personal car so he could get back to Pierre, South Dakota. Only upon his return in the getaway car the next day did Ravnsborg “discover” Boever's mangled body. Then, that next day, they did a toxicology test. Finally. Please. This investigation so insults one's intelligence, assault and battery could be charged. Except in Hyde County. There, prosecutors claimed they lacked evidence for vehicular homicide or manslaughter charges. Even the distracted driving charge was dropped. Were the roles reversed, Boever would still be trying to chip his way out of Shawshank.

A stand-up guy would've stepped down, but Ravnsborg's not a stand-up guy. Volek won't have an opportunity to clear up the many questions about the investigation. He died in November, his legacy, fairly or not, in doubt.

Ravnsborg may be removed from office. Maybe. There will almost certainly be a civil case. But real justice for Joe Boever won't be forthcoming.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership.

Opinion by Tony Bender
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column from North Dakota for Forum News Service.
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