PIERRE S.D. — A day after county prosecutors announced they'd filed criminal charges against South Dakota's Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his role in a fatal traffic accident in September in Hyde County, a spokesperson for the state's top law enforcement official says he will not step down.
"(H)e intends to stay on the job," emailed Mike Deaver, a public relations officer hired by Ravnsborg to handle media requests related to the September incident when the attorney general struck and killed a man with his vehicle along U.S. Highway 14. In the Friday, Feb. 19, email, Deaver added the charges are "in essence traffic violations."
Ravnsborg has said he thought he'd hit a wild animal, possibly a deer, the night of the accident, Sept. 12, which is why he apparently didn't find 55-year-old Joseph Boever's body in the ditch until the next morning.
On Thursday, however, Hyde County Assistant State's Attorney Emily Sovell said Ravnsborg's actions weren't free of criminal conduct and filed three misdemeanor charges, including operating a motor vehicle while using a cell phone, illegal lane driving and careless driving. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in county jail, a fine of $500, or both.
During Thursday's press conference, Sovell -- who was joined by Beadle County State's Attorney Mike Moore -- spoke for the first time at length on the case, which has consumed public attention since last fall.
The prosecutor said the investigation, headed by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, tracked Ravnsborg's movement on the night of the crash using cell phone data and showed that the attorney general, who was driving west on Highway 14 home to Pierre from a Republican fundraising dinner in Redfield, was not using either of his two cell phones at the time of the impact with Boever.
She also noted the investigators could not prove why Ravnsborg was "distracted" when he drove into the westbound lane, and therefore she couldn't bring a felony charge, such as second-degree manslaughter, against the attorney general.
"Operation of a motor vehicle in violation of a law is not in and of itself sufficient to constitute the recklessness required by that manslaughter statute, even if a person is killed," said Sovell.
Still, the pressing of three misdemeanor charges nevertheless leaves a cloud over Ravnsborg. Moreover, on Thursday, an attorney representing Boever's widow, Jenny, confirmed to Forum News Service he'd be filing civil legal action against the state official.
"The attorney general should be held accountable for his actions, just like anyone else," said Sioux Falls attorney Scott Heidepriem, in a phone call.
The South Dakota Democratic Party also issued a call for Ravnsborg to resign.
"This was not an accident," said Nikki Gronli, vice chairwoman of the SDDP. "This was criminal conduct that resulted in the death of Joe Boever."
Since September, Ravnsborg has remained in his post. During the ongoing legislative session, the attorney general has appeared as a spectator at joint addresses and even testified in a legislative committee hearing on altering penalties in manslaughter cases.
Earlier this month, the Rapid City Journal reported that -- due to the ongoing legal case -- that police across the state had ceased relying on the AG's office for review in officer-involved shootings.