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Politics

A deeper dive into the Ravnsborg investigation files

Screenshot 2022-04-01 073303.jpg

The interview above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

House lawmakers meet next week to consider whether to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. A large trove of files related to the investigation has been released to the public.

SDPB's Lee Strubinger is with us. He has gone through the investigation files and is us for more from the Black Hills Surgical Hospital Studio in SDPB's Rapid City space to break it all down for us.

Transcript

Lori Walsh:
Let's start here. Could you give us a sense of what the file actually is, where it came from, and why now? Why are we having this conversation now?

Lee Strubinger:
Yeah, the entire investigative file is upwards of 30 gigabytes' worth of material, including about 230 files consisting of documents, videos, and audio recordings. There are several large files that contain drone video of the crash site; surveillance video of Ravnsborg at the Spink County Lincoln Day Dinner; and even of Joe Boever, who was struck and killed by Ravnsborg in September of 2020, as he was walking past a gas station; and video, things like that.

Lee Strubinger:
There's also audio from dozens of interrogation interviews ranging from family members of Ravnsborg and Boever; to people Ravnsborg called that night, or in the preceding days following the crash; to people who saw Joe Boever walking along the north side of the highway, outside of the town of Highmore.

Lee Strubinger:
There's also 61 different reports compiled by the North Dakota investigators, who are Joe Arenz and Arnie Rummel, who were brought in to assist the South Dakota Highway Patrol and really conduct the investigation into the crash.

Lee Strubinger:
This file has been something that's been promised to the public since the Tuesday following that crash. And now we've finally gotten a window into it.

Lori Walsh:
All right. So you have been following this incident for quite some time now. What were you looking for inside that investigation file?

Lee Strubinger:
I first wanted to hear from Hyde County Sheriff Mike Volek. He had passed away last November, just before the House voted to form an impeachment inquiry into the incident. So we never really heard from him, and he was never subpoenaed before the committee. But he was interviewed by the North Dakota law enforcement officials that I mentioned earlier.

Lee Strubinger:
Sheriff Volek was the first officer on the scene. And he even lent his personal vehicle to Ravnsborg that night so Ravnsborg could travel from Highmore back to Pierre. In this clip, you'll hear North Dakota special agent Joe Arenz talk to Volek about searching for what Ravnsborg had hit.

Audio:
And [inaudible 00:02:35] and look for a body?

Audio:
No, I was not.

Audio:
Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Audio:
And if we'd have walked back farther, we'd probably seen the body.

Audio:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Audio:
So you guys did walk back?

Audio:
Yes.

Audio:
Okay. Both of you?

Audio:
Yes.

Lee Strubinger:
Volek said it seemed like they walked back far enough to see, I guess at the time, what they thought was a deer. Keep in mind the South Dakota Highway Patrol estimated that it took Ravnsborg about 614 feet to stop his car after the moment of impact. And they say it generally takes a driver about 200 feet to stop their car at the rate of speed that he was going.

Lee Strubinger:
So that's kind of why in that instance-

Lori Walsh:
Right.

Lee Strubinger:
... Volek felt like they had walked that far enough.

Lori Walsh:
Sure.

Lee Strubinger:
After the attorney general left, Volek said he went back to the crash scene, and he saw something glowing in the glass. And that night, Joe Boever was carrying a flashlight.

Audio:
You had mentioned that you saw a light glowing?

Audio:
Yes.

Audio:
Okay. Did you ever go check that light out?

Audio:
I looked at it and it looked like a light bulb out of the car, but I didn't go down and pick it up.

Audio:
Uh-huh (affirmative). Okay.

Audio:
It's like, I wish I'd taken a picture of it.

Audio:
And it was on, though?

Audio:
It was on.

Audio:
Okay. Have you ever seen that before?

Audio:
No.

Audio:
Okay.

Audio:
No.

Lee Strubinger:
Volek goes on to tell investigators that he was about five feet from the light in the ditch, and he says he did not investigate the light further. Now, keep in mind, in order for Volek to get that close to the flashlight, he would've had to walk past Boever's body.

Audio:
Because I'm trying to picture it. And I'm thinking you would've had to walk by the body-

Audio:
You had to walk by the body-

Audio:
... you walked by the body to get to the flashlight.

Audio:
That's what I said: why didn't I see the damn body?

Lori Walsh:
Hmm. All right. You brought one more thing to share with us in this massive trove of information. What do you want to highlight?

Lee Strubinger:
Yeah. So House lawmakers meet next week to consider whether to impeach the attorney general. And one of those lawmakers casting a vote admitted to being a personal lawyer to Ravnsborg: that's Representative Scott Odenbach.

Lee Strubinger:
The Spearfish Republican talked to Ravnsborg in the days following the crash. And North Dakota agents called Odenbach about a press release that was on official attorney general letterhead, that the attorney general called a full and factual account of what happened that night.

Lee Strubinger:
Odenbach, who is a lawyer, said that he advised Ravnsborg on what to say.

Audio:
Yeah. On this thing, he did call and I did give him some counsel.

Audio:
Okay.

Audio:
On the best way forward on that, in a capacity I would characterize as his attorney.

Audio:
Okay. So it was somewhat of legal advice there. Okay.

Audio:
Yeah, for sure it was.

Audio:
Right. Okay.

Lee Strubinger:
So Odenbach was not on the impeachment inquiry. But recall if you will, that Representative Odenbach was named on some of those billboards that popped up in Sioux Falls, asking various members on the committee what they were trying to hide. So he was listed in the investigation file for that audio clip that we just heard.

Lee Strubinger:
I spoke to Odenbach this morning, and he told me that he spoke to Ravnsborg the day after the accident. That Ravnsborg had sent him this press release statement through Facebook. Odenbach told me that he gave the letter some edits and sent it back to him. He says that Ravnsborg never paid him a penny, and that Odenbach is not a criminal lawyer.

Lee Strubinger:
He says he told interrogators about him giving counsel out of an abundance of caution. And Odenbach says that he spoke to a liability insurance group that concluded his relationship to Ravnsborg does not preclude him from doing his job as a state representative: which in this case, would be voting on impeachment.

Lori Walsh:
All right. As we've said, lawmakers meeting next week to consider impeaching Ravnsborg. How is that going to look?

Lee Strubinger:
Yeah. The House is scheduled to gavel in at 11:00 Central, 10:00 Mountain. And impeachment requires a simple majority of all members of the House. If the House votes to each Ravnsborg, it will move on to the Senate for a trial, which would require a two-thirds majority to remove Ravnsborg from office, if it got to that point.

Lee Strubinger:
However, as we've reported, the majority report by the impeachment inquiry recommends against impeaching Ravnsborg. So we'll just have to wait to see how it all plays out.

You can see that coverage live on SDPB TV 2 at 11 o'clock Central next Tuesday, and follow it online at sd.net.