An attorney for South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on Thursday entered no-contest pleas on his behalf to two misdemeanors in connection with a crash last year that left a 55-year-old pedestrian dead.
Last September, on the night of the crash, Ravnsborg told a 911 dispatcher, “I hit something” that was in the middle of the road.
He initially told police he had hit a deer but discovered Joseph Boever’s body the following morning after returning to the scene of the crash.
Investigators said they found Boever’s broken glasses in Ravnsborg’s car and that the victim’s face had come through the attorney general’s windshield.
Ravnsborg was ordered to pay a $500 fine for each of two misdemeanors – one count of operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device and one count of lane driving.
A third misdemeanor was dismissed.
Ravnsborg did not appear in court and was represented by attorney Timothy Rensch.
Rensch told the court that Ravnsborg didn’t see Boever and his death was an accident.
“Just because he’s the attorney general doesn’t mean that accidents can’t happen,” Rensch said. “Just because he’s the attorney general and is involved here does not mean that the fix is in and there’s some great conspiracy not to hold him accountable.”
Joseph Boever’s widow, Jennifer, told the judge that Ravnsborg’s “actions are incomprehensible, inexcusable and cannot be forgiven.”
She disagreed with the decision not to give Ravnsborg jail time.
She described her husband as the love of her life and said she lost her best friend and her chance for happiness.
Jane Boever, Joseph Boever’s sister, slammed the attorney general for not appearing in court.
“We feel that at no point has the defendant shown any remorse and has instead demonstrated callousness with respect to the life he took and the victim’s family and friends. He has demonstrated arrogance towards the law he, as an attorney general, is supposed to uphold,” she said.
She said Ravnsborg’s “cowardly behavior leaves us frustrated and makes moving on even more difficult.”
The family doesn’t think “a couple of fines” are “adequate punishment for killing a man,” she added.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued a statement Thursday saying she was “not only disappointed in how this process was handled by prosecutors, but outraged at the result of today’s plea hearing and sentencing.”
“Ravnsborg has not accepted responsibility for the death of Joseph Boever and did not even appear in court today to face the charges or the Boever family,” Noem’s statement read.
Noem called for Ravnsborg to step down and offered her continued support for Ravnsborg’s impeachment should he not submit his resignation. State lawmakers voted in March to halt their impeachment effort against Ravnsborg, after articles were initially filed in February.
“If Ravnsborg does not resign, as I believe he should, the Legislature can and should consider the articles of impeachment already brought in the House,” Noem’s statement read.
Rensch said the case was a misdemeanor traffic infraction case, not something more serious.
“That’s what is the mix-up here with the family, they think it’s a homicide case,” he said. “You know, the simple fact of the matter is accidents happen. People die. It should not happen, nobody wants anybody to die.”
Last year, the state released a toxicology report stating that a blood sample given by Ravnsborg the day after the crash showed his blood alcohol content was 0%.
The attorney general was ordered to pay an additional $3,742.38 to Stanley County for costs related to securing the scene.
Judge John Brown also asked that Ravnsborg do a “significant public service event over a period of five years, once each year on or about the anniversary date of Mr. Boever’s death” but he withheld that entry of the judgment pending supporting case documents Rensch is to submit.
Ravnsborg, a Republican, was elected South Dakota attorney general in 2018.
CNN’s Devan Cole and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report.