The judge overseeing Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s criminal case has ordered state government to stop releasing evidence and delete two videos of his police interviews it already shared.
“This is highly unprecedented, and release of this type of information to the public before it has even been released to defense counsel creates great unfairness and prejudice,” defense lawyer Timothy Rensch of Rapid City wrote in a motion filed Thursday. “If such order is not granted, the selective and unprecedented release of this nonpublic information will create irreparable harm to the defendant.”
Emily Sovell, deputy state’s attorney for Hyde County, tried to stop Gov. Kristi Noem from releasing the videos on Tuesday, the motion says.
Ian Fury, Noem's spokesman, did not respond when asked for comment and whether the governor would file a motion challenging the order.
Rensch filed the motion in Hyde County Court.
Retired Judge John Brown filed his order the same day but did not explain his reasoning. He only ordered the government to take down the videos, not the documents and audio files published during the investigation before Ravnsborg was charged.
Ravnsborg, 44, was charged last Thursday with three misdemeanors but no felonies after he hit and killed Joe Boever while driving in the shoulder of the highway near Highmore on Sept. 12, law enforcement says.
The order and motion came after Gov. Kristi Noem announced Thursday morning that the Department of Public Safety would be releasing more evidence from the investigation into the crash.
Noem said she spent 10 hours on Monday reviewing the case evidence and ordered DPS to release videos of Ravnsborg’s two interviews with investigators on Tuesday.
DPS promised to “release the investigate report as soon as it is complete,” but never did. The agency instead released certain pieces of evidence over the course of five months and rejected the Journal's public records request for all 911 calls related to the crash.
Noem said reviewing the case drove her decision to call for Ravnsborg to resign on Tuesday after refraining from publicly doing so during the investigation and after the charges were announced last week. She has rejected reports that she privately told Ravnsborg he should resign in the days after the crash.
Not long after her announcement, Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, filed articles of impeachment against Ravnsborg.
DPS deleted links to the videos on its website and from its YouTube account shortly after the order was issued.
The videos revealed new allegations about the crash, such as that Boever was walking with a flashlight, crashed head-first through Jason Ravnsborg’s windshield, left behind broken glasses in his car, and then came to rest near the side of the road next to the light that remained illuminated.
The investigators told Ravnsborg that if he had been paying attention, he should have seen Boever before, during and after the crash. They appeared more skeptical than prosecutors about Ravnsborg’s driving and insistence of never seeing Boever.
Rensch said he learned Noem was going to release evidence on Tuesday so he emailed Sovell and Brown requesting immediate relief. He said he didn’t have enough information to file a formal motion and was out of state and therefore wasn't able to coordinate with his staff.
However, Sovell emailed Noem that day with “legal points and authority as to why not to release anything in public relating to the Ravnsborg criminal investigation,” Rensch wrote.
“Despite this,” DPS posted the videos, he said.
Rensch cited multiple South Dakota Supreme Court rulings that he said prove that releasing “nonpublic criminal investigative information violates the defendant’s fair trial” and other rights.
The videos should be deleted “to prevent potential jurors from having access to information which would be hearsay at a trial of this matter,” he wrote.
South Dakota law says investigative materials from law enforcement agencies are not public records. DPS, the Attorney General's Office, the Rapid City Police Department and the Pennington County Sheriff's Office have denied the Journal's requests for videos and other evidence, often related to law enforcement using serious or lethal force against civilians.
Ravnsborg is charged with unsafely driving outside a lane and careless driving in relation to hitting Boever. He's also charged with using his phone while driving before the crash occurred.
All three charges are Class 2 misdemeanors, each punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine.
Ravnsborg, who received a summons rather than being arrested, has not yet been scheduled for an initial court appearance.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at firstname.lastname@example.org.