Embattled Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said Friday he will not step aside as a growing number of county board members called for his resignation over a drunken driving crash near Alexandria, Minn., last month.
Hutchinson said in a statement that he is "fully committed to continuing to serve the people of Hennepin County who elected me. I will let the citizens, not politicians, decide my future in November."
Five of the seven county commissioners issued statements this week demanding the resignation of the first-term sheriff. Since he is elected by voters, the board has no authority to remove him from office.
Board chairwoman Marion Greene, among the latest to call for his resignation, tweeted Thursday that Hutchinson's "actions and subsequent comments have eroded public confidence [in] his ability to serve and equitably enforce laws."
Hutchinson is also being investigated by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, which oversees officer licensing and potential disciplinary actions. State law requires the board to look into the circumstances surrounding Hutchinson's drunken driving conviction after the crash. He was a member of the board for several years.
Hutchinson was elected in 2019 after narrowly defeating incumbent Rich Stanek. He is up for re-election in November. The sheriff's salary is $188,775, and he oversees 800 employees and manages a $127 million annual budget.
Hutchinson was a sergeant with the Metro Transit Police Department when he defeated Stanek, who had served as sheriff for 12 years. Hutchinson dominated precincts in Minneapolis and a few other cities, while Stanek won precincts outside the core city.
Stanek, a former Republican legislator who now works as a public safety consultant, said Friday he sympathizes with Hutchinson's struggles as he copes with the demands of the job. As Hennepin County sheriff, Stanek said he worked 12-hour days and was on call at all hours.
"It is hard to do the job of sheriff and also deal with a serious personal problem," Stanek said.
Hutchinson drank at a sheriff association conference and crashed his county-owned SUV in a ditch about 2:30 a.m. Dec. 8. He suffered multiple injuries and spent several days in the hospital. He is expected to repay the county for damage to the SUV.
He is now attending outpatient therapy and took responsibility for the crash at the time, saying he is struggling with alcohol addiction.
The sheriff had a blood alcohol content of 0.13%, according to a test of his urine; the state legal limit is 0.08%, but only 0.04% while carrying a firearm, as Hutchinson was at the time of the crash.
He was charged with four misdemeanor drunken driving charges, but pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree driving under the influence of alcohol, the lowest level of criminal offense under Minnesota law. He received two years probation, and the firearm charge will be continued for dismissal at a later date.
After pleading guilty, a newly unsealed search warrant in Becker County District Court indicated that an open bottle of bourbon "was observed inside the passenger compartment," which is against the law.
The warrant also said that Hutchinson repeatedly told state troopers that he was not driving when the crash occurred, a revelation that triggered the calls for his resignation from county board members.
Hutchinson told the Star Tribune before the warrant was unsealed that he had drinks at a hospitality suite for the Minnesota Sheriffs Association winter gathering 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 trip back to the Twin Cities.
Commissioners Irene Fernando and Jeff Lunde were the first to call on Hutchinson to resign earlier in the week. Fernando tweeted that she sent a letter to the sheriff urging him to resign, calling his actions "egregious," and saying "his comments since the crash are unjustifiable."
"The only way to maintain the dignity of the Sheriff's office and to show respect for the laws you are sworn to uphold is to resign immediately," Fernando wrote. The commissioner also said she spoke with Hutchinson on the phone several days after the crash, urging him to take a leave of absence and seek treatment.
"You strongly disagreed, and since you are an elected official, I do not have the authority to place you on leave," Fernando wrote.
Lunde issued a statement saying that "with the current tense climate around public safety, an incident like this involving the head public safety official of Hennepin County needs to be addressed."
"Trust needs to be earned, and I know that accountability is central to building and maintaining this trust, " he wrote.
Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson, whose office prosecuted Hutchinson, said the complete case file becomes public 30 days after sentencing, which occurred on Dec. 20.
The two other county commissioners who asked for Hutchinson's resignation on Thursday were Angela Conley and Chris LaTondresse. Conley tweeted that she wants Hutchinson to resign immediately to "allow room for a leader who can do this work in a healthy place."
LaTondresse issued a statement saying the sheriff "endangered lives and violated the laws he took an oath to uphold and enforce."
Commissioner Kevin Anderson has not called for the sheriff's resignation.
"Instead of calling on him to resign, I am calling on him to be completely transparent about the incident, his recovery, and how he will address the culture of alcohol abuse while protecting Hennepin County residents," Anderson said Friday. "If he is unable to do that, then we should have a new sheriff."
Commissioner Debbie Gottel did not respond for a request for comment.
Hutchinson has two challengers in his race for re-election. Earlier in the week, Suwana Kirkland, the head of the Dakota County Community Corrections Department, announced that she is running for the position.
Jai Hanson, a Bloomington police officer, is also running to become sheriff.