A South Dakota judge on Thursday blocked Governor Kristi Noem from releasing documents and video in the investigation of the state's attorney general for striking and killing a man with his car. Defense attorneys for Jason Ravnsborg, the state's top law enforcement agent, argued that the release of video of his interviews with investigators and other documents violated his right to a fair trial.
Ravnsborg is facing three misdemeanor charges, as well as the governor calling for his resignation, after he acknowledged in a statement shortly after the crash that he struck and killed a man walking on the shoulder of a rural highway on September 12. He said he thought he had hit a deer until he returned to the accident scene the next day and found the body.
A circuit court judge in the county where the crash occurred ordered Noem and the Department of Public Safety late Thursday to halt the governor's plan to release more documents from the crash investigation, the Argus Leader reported. The judge also ordered the Department of Public Safety to remove two videos from its website it had released Tuesday that showed investigators interviewing Ravnsborg.
Noem, a Republican, had tried to ratchet up pressure on the attorney general to resign earlier Thursday, promising to release the investigation documents and enlisting a senior cabinet member to join the chorus calling for his removal from office.
Speaking at a news conference, Noem said she decided to publicly call for Ravnsborg to resign after taking a day to review the investigation, including videos of his interviews with law enforcement. She cast the decision to release the documents and video as providing transparency to the investigation.
"I spent about 10 hours on Monday reviewing the entire case and the videos and what was included during the investigation before the charges were filed. And that's why on Tuesday you saw me say that I believe the attorney general should resign," she said, according to CBS affiliate KELO-TV. "It was not long after that the House and Representative Mortenson filed those impeachment papers. And they'll continue to work through that process."
The governor said she had not communicated directly with Ravnsborg since the accident.
Ravnsborg, also a Republican, has indicated he will not step down and insists he can continue performing the duties of his office despite facing the traffic charges and impeachment in the Legislature.
But Craig Price, Noem's secretary of public safety, pushed for Ravnsborg's impeachment. Joining Noem at the news conference, Price said "maintaining public trust is critical" for law enforcement officers, referencing his 20-year career as a police officer that culminated with overseeing the state's Highway Patrol.
Price had said the Department of Public Safety was within the bounds of state law in releasing the documents.
Noem also made the extraordinary move of releasing videos of Ravnsborg's interviews with detectives investigating the crash that occurred as he was driving home from a Republican fundraiser. The videos have since been removed from the Department of Public Safety's website.
In the interviews, Ravnsborg appears unsure of how his Ford Taurus veered onto the highway shoulder, where it struck 55-year-old Joseph Boever. Though he initially told investigators he didn't use his cellphone while driving that night, he admitted that he had been checking email and news websites after investigators confronted him with his phone records.
Prosecutors have charged him with a misdemeanor for using his phone while driving, though his phone records show the device was locked about a minute before the crash.
Meanwhile, lawmakers readied to move forward with impeachment proceedings next week. House Speaker Spencer Gosch has proposed forming a special committee to investigate Ravnsborg's conduct in the fatal crash.