Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson is “lucky to be alive” and recovering with numerous injuries after crashing his SUV in western Minnesota, likely while intoxicated, his attorney said Thursday.
The rollover wreck occurred about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday about 5 miles east of Alexandria on Interstate 94, the State Patrol said.
Hutchinson said in a statement the next day that he was returning from the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association winter conference at the Arrowwood Resort and made the “inexcusable decision to drive after drinking alcohol.”
The sheriff’s attorney, Fred Bruno, told the Star Tribune that Hutchinson is doing “not too bad, not too good” physically and will remain in AlomereHealth hospital in Alexandria, Minn., “for a couple more days” as he’s treated for three broken ribs and head and hip injuries.
Hutchinson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“The State Patrol said he is lucky to be alive,” Bruno said. Hutchinson was wearing his seat belt at the time, the patrol said.
Authorities collected a urine sample from Hutchinson to test his level of intoxication. Bruno, who spent several hours with Hutchinson in the hospital Wednesday, said he expects the results to show that the sheriff was too intoxicated to drive under state law.
The Douglas County Attorney’s Office will likely use the results to weigh charges against the 41-year-old Hutchinson.
“I anticipate that a criminal charging decision will be made based upon those results early next week,” County Attorney Chad Larson said Thursday.
Bruno declined to say where Hutchinson was drinking in the hours leading up to the crash, citing the ongoing patrol investigation.
Since Hutchinson had been drinking and possibly suffered a concussion in the crash, “he was acting very strange at the scene,” Bruno said.
In his statement, Hutchinson said, “I will immediately address my personal issues surrounding alcohol and seek the help I need to continue to serve the people of Hennepin County.”
Bruno declined to reveal specifics, but he said “those steps are in place” concerning Hutchinson’s difficulties with alcohol.
Citing the increasing challenges for members of law enforcement in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in the country, Bruno said, “They are under a lot of unprecedented stress. It’s not an excuse but an explanation.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman also admitted to having issues with alcohol in May 2019. He took a leave of absence for nearly three months to go through treatment for alcoholism and returned to the job. In September, Freeman announced he would retire at the end of his term.
Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Andy Skoogman said that Hutchinson, as an elected official, is not subject to any disciplinary action by the county in the same manner as a deputy or county employee.
The State Patrol puts many serious crashes on its publicly accessible critical incident web page, routinely within a few hours of when they occur. Disclosure of Hutchinson’s rollover on that page, however, took much longer.
The sheriff’s crash was posted on the web page 11 ½ hours later, after news releases from the state Department of Public Safety and Hutchinson were sent out in quick succession 10-plus hours afterward.
A responding trooper knew the Hennepin County sheriff was the driver “within an hour of the crash,” said Bruce Gordon, chief spokesman for the DPS.
There were four other injury crashes listed on the site, including the names of the people in the vehicles, that occurred after Hutchinson’s on Wednesday. All four were posted 2 ½ hours or sooner after the incidents.
“It is not unusual to post a crash on the media web hours after the incident as more information becomes available,” Gordon said.
He said that Hutchinson was not administered a preliminary breath test at the scene to measure intoxication.
With the option of either taking a urine or blood sample from Hutchinson at the hospital for alcohol content testing, a state trooper chose urine, Gordon said. Many lawyers and law enforcement professionals consider urine samples less accurate than blood samples at detecting alcohol levels.
Gordon said that “both are accurate, meet the legal standard for determining DWI, are acceptedby the courts and are routinely used by law enforcement agencies throughout the state.”
Hutchinson is in his first term as sheriff. He defeated incumbent Richard Stanek in 2018 by more than 2,300 votes out of more than 525,000 cast.
Bruno said he believes Hutchinson can still successfully run for re-election in 2022.
“He’s pretty well liked by the rank and file [in the Sheriff’s Office] and the community,” Bruno said. Since taking office, Hutchinson has made changes to policies involving immigrants and implemented changes in how jail inmates are treated, such as offering treatment for opioid addiction.
“This is a single transgression in a career that has been long and unblemished,” the attorney said. “I hope the public will understand that.”
The four-day sheriff’s conference started Sunday, but Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie said he didn’t see Hutchinson until Tuesday. He said the conference is a great training opportunity and chance “to hear what sheriffs are dealing with.”
This year’s conference had numerous speakers on officer-involved incidents. It also featured awards and officer installation ceremonies.
On Tuesday night, a band performed and there was a cash bar from 10:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Socializing at night is where the best information is exchanged, said Bill Hutton, the sheriff association’s executive director and former Washington County sheriff.
Neither Hutton nor Leslie would say whether they saw Hutchinson at the event. They said there were several hospitality rooms, a lot of people and the event occurred over a relatively short period of time.
“It takes a lot to recognize you have an issue,” Hutton said about what happened to Hutchinson. “Hopefully he can do something about it.”