PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota lawmakers spent hours discussing and reexamining the entire investigation against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Tuesday.
The nine-member House Select Committee on Investigation, conducting the state’s first impeachment proceedings, held more than four hours of public testimony from six people directly involved in the initial investigation in the days after Ravnsborg’s car struck and killed Joe Boever in September 2020.
Those who spoke with lawmakers on Tuesday were Secretary Craig Price, Col. Rick Miller and Sgt. Kevin Kinney with the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, John Daily with Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations, Special Agent Jermaine Quam with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper John Berndt.
At the end of the meeting, the committee voted to release special agent Quam and crash specialist Daily from their subpoenas. The only person left to testify is Special Agent Joe Arenz with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the committee is scheduled to meet from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. again on Wednesday.
Testimony during the first hour of the impeachment hearings was very graphic at times as lawmakers began questioning investigators about the crash scene and the collection of evidence. Throughout all the testimony details regarding where exactly the crash happened were discussed.
The South Dakota Department of Public Safety believes Ravnsborg’s car was on the shoulder of the road when the crash happened and officials said they are “very confident” in the location of where the crash happened.
“Mr. Boever was struck on the right side on the passenger side of Mr. Ravnsborg’s vehicle, which is why his right leg was severed just below the knee, he then went up onto the hood of the vehicle and his face came through the windshield,” Sgt. Kinney said.
An independent crash reconstruction business owner John Daily agreed with the findings from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety. Daily said if Ravnsborg’s car was in the driving lane, the crash would’ve not happened.
“The vehicle was being driven on the shoulder,” Daily said. “I agree with the conclusion that the vehicle drove across, with both sets of wheels, drove across the rumble strip.”
Berndt, a highway patrol trooper based in Aberdeen, also shared his belief based on evidence collected at the scene that Ravnsborg hit Boever on the shoulder. He described the crash map, in the photo below, on how paint chips from the car, Boever’s blood and debris from the car all point to the crash happening on the shoulder.
“Attorney General Ravnsborg doesn’t make a significant brake to stop. It takes him 614 feet to stop,” Berndt said. “That is not normal.”
Berndt said it takes a normal vehicle less than 200 feet to come to a stop.
“Why is he driving on the shoulder?” Berndt said. “He’s not just driving on the shoulder a little ways. Based on what I show and what the calculations show, is that he’s driving so far on the shoulder that he’s almost going into the ditch when he strikes Mr. Boever. To drive that far onto the shoulder, to take that far to stop, to say that you never saw the person, and their face came through your windshield, I’m sorry but that’s a distraction.”
The final person to testify Tuesday is South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper John Berndt. The committee is taking a five minute break. Once again, lawmakers asked Berndt, under oath, whether Ravnsborg or anyone on his staff reached out to him to influence him before giving testimony. Berndt answered no.
Berndt was assigned with helping the crash reconstruction. He said Ravnsborg was distracted but the distracted has never been determined. Berndt said he arrived on the scene around noon on Sunday, Sept. 13, the day after the crash.
Berndt said he was the person who found the light on the scene. He said the trend line was blood, paint chips from the car and vehicle debris. He discussed the mapping of the crash reconstruction.
Berndt said all the evidence was found on the shoulder of the highway. Berndt is based in Aberdeen and Hyde County is part of his coverage area.
He said the light was found in grass nine to 12 inches tall and he called it thin grass. Berndt said the flashlight was small about 3-4 inches long with 2 inches in diameter. He said they are unsure which direction Boever was holding the flashlight. When troopers recreated the crash with the the light, there were times they could see the light and times they could not see the light.
Berndt said Ravnsborg’s state cell phone data allowed investigators to determine a lot of the details of the crash. He said it took 614 feet for Ravnsborg to stop but it would’ve only taken around 200 feet.
Berndt said he spoke with the tow truck driver out of Pierre. He said his interview helped determine where Ravnsborg’s car was finally stopped. Berndt said the tow truck driver did not have a conversation with the Hyde County Sheriff.
Berndt said Ravnsborg’s car worked flawlessly with braking and steering. Berndt physically drove the car used in the crash through the scene multiple times and said there was noticeable rumble and sound from the rumble strips on the shoulder.
The committee is now speaking with Special Agent Jermaine Quam with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Lawmakers once again first asked Quam, under oath, whether Ravnsborg or anyone on his staff has reached out to him to influence him before giving testimony. Quam answered no.
Quam is speaking about the N.D. BCI swabs blood for DNA testing. Quam said investigators sprayed the entire road to help highlight where had been on the road. They used Bluestar blood developer which helps detect blood traces not scene by the human eye.
John Daily with Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations spoke with lawmakers, explaining the science behind crash reconstruction. He believed the crash happened on the shoulder and the crash wouldn’t have happened if Ravnsborg’s car was in the driving lane. Daily said he believes Ravnsborg was a distracted driver because his car was completely in the shoulder.
Lawmakers once again first asked Daily, under oath, whether Ravnsborg or anyone on his staff has reached out to him to influence him before giving testimony. Daily answered no and said he was contacted by Sgt. Kevin Kinney and was paid by the state of South Dakota.
Daily said he had access to all the records and only looked at what he needed. He agreed with S.D. Department of Public Safety’s findings about the crash occurring on the shoulder.
Daily explained how trend lines from the crash help investigators a good idea of what happened. He said the margin of error is small. The trend lines include paint chips from Ravnsborg’s car, blood from Boever and other debris from the car come from the point of impact.
Daily said he doesn’t believe traffic would have moved debris from the crash.
Daily said he believed the speed was around 65 mph and it was not a defining issue. Daily said if Ravnsborg’s car was in the westbound lane instead of the shoulder, the crash would not have happened.
Daily said he’s performed over 1,000 crash reconstructions and is the co-author of 3 books on the subject including “The Fundamentals of Crash Reconstruction.” Daily said he’s worked crashes much more stranger than this one.
Daily cited Newton’s Second Law of Motion for reasons why the impact couldn’t have been closer to the driving lane.
Officials with the South Dakota Department of Public Safety said there’s no evidence of heavy braking on the road before or after the crash.
Secretary Price said he worked closely with the Hyde County State’s Attorney as she weighed what to charge Ravnsborg. Price said many of the conversations flowed through Emily Sovell, but he also had other conversations with other state’s attorneys in the state.
Rep. Steve Haugaard, who is challenging Gov. Kristi Noem for the Republican nomination for governor, asked Price about all his conversations with Noem and other communication with his staff and other state’s attorneys throughout the investigation.
Rep. Haugaard asked how officials weigh the 10-hour time frame from the crash to when investigators got on scene. Officials said the weather is taken into account and noted weather reports showed there was one wind gust of 17 mph that could have pushed some debris to the northwest.
Officials tested Ravnsborg’s car for the ABS braking system which was function correctly and that is why there were no tire skid marks showing up.
Haugaard asked Secretary Price about releasing a crash report to the public before a trial happened. Secretary Price said DPS believed they had legal standing to publish what they did before a judge ordered them to remove two interviews that were made public.
Price said he’s been advised not to disclose details of conversations between him and the governor’s office.
Secretary Price is discussing why he publicly disagreed with the charges Hyde County Deputy State’s Attorney Emily Sovell brought forward.
Lawmakers asked why the North Dakota Highway Patrol wasn’t used in crash reconstruction as well. Secretary Price said scene collection was objective work and they felt comfortable.
Officials said all four wheels of Ravnsborg’s car crossed the rumble strip before impact.
Lawmakers confirmed part of Boever’s glasses ended up in the backseat of the car. Sgt. Kinney said he can’t speculate why the sheriff didn’t see the body.
When asked about if anyone in the investigation disagreed with the point of impact, officials said John Daily with Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations conducted his own independent investigation.
Secretary Price said the only person he knows who disputes the point of impact is Ravnsborg in some of his statements.
Lawmakers have been asking investigators with the South Dakota Department of Public Safety how certain they are about where the crash happened.
The South Dakota Department of Public Safety believes Ravnsborg’s car was on the shoulder of the road when the crash happened. They say they are very confident in the location of where the crash happened.
Lawmakers asked the South Dakota Department of Public Safety about a supplement report, using a blood trail possibly showing the crash happened closer to the westbound driving lane.
Sgt. Kinney said Boever was hit on the passenger side and his right leg was severed just below the knee, he then went onto the hood and his face came through the windshield. Sgt. Kinney said they don’t believe any part of Boever went under the vehicle during the crash.
Lawmakers first said anyone who is asked to testify will first answer, under oath, whether Ravnsborg or anyone on his staff has reached out to them before giving testimony. Speaking first are members with the South Dakota Department of Public Safety — Secretary Craig Price, Col. Rick Miller and Sgt. Kevin Kinney.
They told lawmakers the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation were brought in to assist with the investigation.
Secretary Price said he was in contact with Governor Noem and legal counsel when deciding what reports to release to the public. The Ravnsborg-Boever fatal crash materials are still on the front page of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety website.
Price said he believed it was appropriate, even when considering due process, to release the crash report for “transparency reasons.”
Roll call has been taken and the meeting has started. KELOLAND News is having technical issues with a livestream connection from Pierre.
On Monday, the committee issued 13-page list of documents with redactions ahead of testimony Tuesday and Wednesday.
There’s a total of 65 different reports filed in the investigation file given to lawmakers at the request of Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.). The reports include interviews, scene processing, cell phone reports, autopsy reports, vehicle processing reports, dispatch recordings and logs, law enforcement video and other reports.
Most of the redactions include personal information like home addresses, dates of birth and personal cell phone numbers. Photographs showing Boever’s body and the autopsy report photos are also being redacted.
Some of the reports being discussed will include information from former Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek, witnesses from the Lincoln Day Dinner in Redfield and Ravnsborg’s chief of staff Tim Bormann. Volek, who died in November, was the first on the scene after the Ravnsborg crash, while Bormann was with Ravnsborg when he first found Boever’s body the morning after.
South Dakota lawmakers will start reexamining the entire investigation against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Tuesday.
After voting unanimously to issue five subpoenas for people to testify, the nine-member House Select Committee on Investigation will hear from those involved in the initial investigation in the days after Ravnsborg’s car struck and killed Joe Boever in September 2020.
A lawyer for Ravnsborg pleaded no contest in August to a pair of misdemeanors. A few months later in November, 58 members of the South Dakota House of Representatives voted in favor of a resolution to start the state’s first impeachment process.
Agendas for the committee meetings say testimony will begin at 3:35 p.m. Tuesday until 8 p.m. and restart at 3:35 p.m. Wednesday until 6:30 p.m.
Scheduled to speak are Special Agents Jermaine Quam and Joe Arenz with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper John Berndt, Secretary Craig Price, Col. Rick Miller and Sgt. Kevin Kinney with the South Dakota Department of Public Safety and John Daily with Jackson Hole Scientific Investigations.
House Speaker Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) appointed six Republican representatives and two Democrat representatives to the select committee. The committee first met on Nov. 10 and hired Rapid City-based lawyer Sara Frankenstein as legal counsel.
In two meetings at the end of December, Gosch said committee members went through a large investigation file provided by South Dakota Department of Public Safety at the request of Gov. Kristi Noem.
The South Dakota Constitution says grounds for impeachment are “drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor in office.”
A simple majority of 36 representatives in the House would be necessary to impeach Ravnsborg, at which time the state Constitution states there’d be “Suspension of duties between impeachment and acquittal.” There’s then, at least, a 20-day delay until a Senate trial could be held. Senators could vote to convict, which would permanently remove Ravnsborg from office.
Ravnsborg’s first term as attorney general would end in January 2023, regardless of who the Republican Party nominates at a state convention and who voters choose in the November election.
Candidates for the position of attorney general are nominated at state conventions of each political party. The South Dakota Republican Party State Convention will be held June 23-25 at the Watertown Event Center.
Former attorney general Marty Jackley has stated he’ll seek the Republican attorney general nomination.
In 2018, Ravnsborg beat Democratic candidate Randy Seiler 55% to 45%, receiving 33,000 more votes than Seiler.