Sheriff David Hutchinson, Hennepin County’s top cop, said he understands why some community groups have called for his resignation after his drunk driving accident and arrest Dec. 8.
He is quick to admit what he did was inexcusable, but said he has no plans to give up the last two years of his term.
“Getting sober has helped me regain my drive to serve the people of Hennepin County to the best of my ability,” he said. “I have a lot more to give.”
He’s proud of the work his agency has accomplished under his leadership, including immigration and jail reforms, working high profiles cases and taking lots of guns off the street. Violent crime is plaguing the county and the nation, and he wants to continue his efforts to reduce it.
“I want to be on the forefront of public safety,” Hutchinson said. “Driving drunk has been the lowest point in my life. I embarrassed myself, my agency and my family. But I want to be a role model to people in law enforcement and first responders.”
He said he planned to do the right thing before making the decision to drink and drive after a state sheriffs’ convention in Alexandria.
He had some drinks at one of the hospitality suites in the evening and eventually went back to his room, where he intended to spend the night. But he said he couldn’t sleep, packed his bag and decided to make the long trip back to the Twin Cities.
Hutchinson admits the details are fuzzy on what led to the accident that nearly took his life. His county-owned sport utility vehicle veered off Interstate 94 at 2:30 a.m. and onto a snow-covered shoulder. The vehicle went into a ditch and flipped, leaving him with several broken ribs and vertebrae and a concussion.
The sheriff had a blood alcohol content was 0.13%; the state legal limit is 0.08%. He was charged with four misdemeanor drunk driving charges, but pleaded guilty to fourth-degree driving under the influence of alcohol.
“All the other sheriffs made the right decision to not drink and drive that night,” he said in his first interview Sunday since the accident. “What I did was inexcusable. I’m not asking for forgiveness. I’m am confident in my ability to serve in the next year and beyond.”
Hutchinson, 41, spent time recovering at a hospital in Alexandria and at his parents’ home before returning to work. His husband, who is a firefighter, helps lift him out of bed as he continues to recuperate.
He has received many visitors and calls of support from friends and people in the addiction recovery community. He is attending outpatient treatment for his struggles with alcohol, saying the crash was a huge wake up call.
“Everything is always 20/20,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve been a social drinker for awhile and have probably been drinking a little more than I should lately. I know I needed help. Alcohol is not for me.”
As part of his plea agreement, he was placed on probation for two years. He isn’t allowed to drink alcohol during that time and will have to submit to random testing.
Hutchinson said he doesn’t believe he has ever intended to drink and drive in the past, but he can’t be sure it hasn’t happened. Alcohol has never impacted his work as sheriff, he said.
“I don’t want to make anymore dumb decisions that involve alcohol,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody.”
He admitted sometimes drinking alcohol to “turn of my with struggles and stress,” but treatment has taught him other ways to cope such as going to the gym, read a book or take a walk.
“There is a lot of stress in law enforcement that impacts every street officer, every sheriff and every police chief,” he said. “We have to find smart ways to deal with it. Drinking isn’t one of them.”
He said he knows some police officers who like to drink too much at times, but Hutchinson implored them to get a ride if they do.
“I will pay for your Uber,” he said.
Hutchinson was elected to a four-year term in 2019, narrowly defeating longtime incumbent Rich Stanek. He said he loves being in law enforcement and wants to leave a positive legacy.
“This will be a black eye for me,” he said. “We have been going through some of the craziest times in our national history. I’m not proud of getting a DUI, but I’m proud of the work of the sheriff’s office.”