In a rare departure from form, Governor Kristi Noem’s office showed good sense about Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s killing of Joseph Boever from the start. Among the documents released to the public from the Ravnsborg investigation file is this record of text messages to the Attorney General from the Governor’s then-chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen. The day after Ravnsborg’s fatal car crash and just a few hours after Ravnsborg and his chief of staff, Tim Bormann, had returned to the scene of the crime to discover the body of the man Ravnsborg had killed, Venhuizen sent a text to Ravnsborg saying “Thanks again for your call. Please give us a heads up before you make any public statements.” Ravnsborg replied, “Sounds good- I have no plans to make any public statements but when I do I will let you know.”
Those messages were at 1:03 and 1:04 p.m., Sunday, September 13. At 4 p.m., Venhuizen appears to suggest to Bormann that Ravnsborg change his plan and make a public statement, since that’s exactly what the Governor was going to do at 5 p.m. that Sunday:
Who participates in the chain is bit unclear from the document: KELO-TV says the Sunday afternoon chain includes messages between Bormann and Ravnsborg, while the Argus says the communication is between Venhuizen and Bormann. But the point is that the Governor’s Office got the Attorney General’s office working on a public statement to release as the Governor was headed for the cameras to talk about Ravnsborg’s shocking crime. Ravnsborg decided to send his message out by email but not on Facebook, since “fb may invite trolls to talk.”
Once that statement was ready, Ravnsborg took the advice (likely of Bormann, since this is the kind of personal advice one would expect from one’s own chief of staff) that he should shut off his phone for the rest of the night:
Two days later, on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, Venhuizen texted Ravnsborg and told him he should take a leave of absence:
Perhaps Ravnsborg hadn’t turned his phone back on, but there is no indication in the investigation file that Ravnsborg texted a reply. Ravnsborg perhaps did not reply at all: Venhuizen said the Governor would announce her request for Ravnsborg’s leave-taking in half an hour but “she won’t say anything until we hear back from you.” At her press conference that afternoon, Noem announced the North Dakota Bureau of Investigation would handle the investigation with help from a Wyoming crash expert, but she said had not addressed whether Ravnsborg would take a leave of absence. Three months later, Ravnsborg said he never intended to take a leave of absence.
Interestingly, when Noem finally did call for Ravnsborg’s resignation in February 2021, after the traffic misdemeanor charges were filed against him, she (Arielle Zionts’s words) “never said Ravnsborg should step down or take a leave of absence during the investigation and denied reports that she asked him to resign in the days after the crash and denied reports that she asked him to resign in the days after the crash.”
But two days after learning about Ravnsborg’s deadly car crash, the smartest bulb in the Executive Branch got on the phone to the dimmest bulb in the Executive Branch and recommended a course of action that should have been obvious to any responsible public servant: while under investigation for killing a man, the state’s top law enforcement officer should step away from his office to make absolutely clear that he would not interfere with the investigation of his killing in any way, as well as to ensure that questions about his own deadly apparent failure to follow the law did not distract from the efforts of his office to enforce the law on others.
Speculate all you want about Noem’s motives for pushing Ravnsborg to step away from the Attorney General’s post. Whatever her motives, Noem’s office has been right on Ravnsborg from the very beginning. He needed to be transparent and honest about what happened. He needed to step away from his office to avoid even the appearance of abusing his authority to gain any personal advantage in the investigation. Having failed to take those actions, Ravnsborg needs to resign or be removed by impeachment.