PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota attorney general criminal proceedings took an abrupt turn this week with a judge slapping a gag order on the state.
Hours after Gov. Kristi Noem promised to release more evidence in a prosecutor’s case against Jason Ravnsborg, who struck and killed a pedestrian last fall, a county judge signed an order requiring Noem and the Department of Public Safety to halt any release and remove from a website two videos of North Dakota investigators questioning Ravnsborg.
State officials were “precluded from producing any further criminal reports, interviews, test results, digital media, photographs, videos, statements, or anything whatsoever related” to the ongoing case, according to Judge John Brown’s ruling.
Brown responded to a motion from Ravnsborg’s defense attorney, Rapid City-based Timothy Rensch, who’d filed paperwork with the court on Thursday, saying “(t)he Governor has, in this case, made the extremely unprecedented, and unusual early release of information regarding a criminal investigation.”
By Thursday evening, the two videos were removed by the public safety department. No further evidence has been realized by the agency.
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Since Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors in the death of pedestrian Joseph Boever, 55, of Highmore, S.D., he has become the subject of an impeachment proceeding in the state House, and also is facing calls for his resignation from Noem and Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price.
On Friday, the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police, South Dakota Chiefs' of Police Association, and the South Dakota Sheriffs Association joined with Price in calling on Ravnsborg to step down.
“Ravnsborg’s involvement in the death of Joe Boever on September 12th have (sic) resulted in a lack of confidence in his ability to effectively carry out his duties as the chief law enforcement officer in South Dakota,” read the joint statement released to the media.
Noem had defended her order to release the video evidence information saying the high-profile case deserves public scrutiny. She has yet to speak with the attorney general, who is also a Republican, since his September crash.
Ravnsborg, through a spokesman, says he will remain on the job, suggesting the misdemeanors are “in essence traffic citations.” He also refused to step down earlier this week in the immediate aftermath of impeachment proceedings, which were introduced by Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre.
According to the state constitution, if an officer is impeached by the House — and before the Senate trial — he or she is suspended from duties. It’s not immediately clear who would run the Office of the Attorney General, in that case.
Noem would appoint his successor if Ravnsborg were removed.