Hennepin Sheriff’s Peace Officer’s License Under Review After Drunk Driving Accident

Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson’s future in law enforcement rests with investigators from a state licensing board determining whether he should be suspended for a driving accident drunk four months ago.

Hutchinson pleaded guilty to fourth-degree drunk driving after his county-owned SUV crashed while driving at speeds in excess of 126 mph on Interstate 94 near Alexandria, Minn., following of a conference of sheriffs on December 8. He was sentenced to two years probation.

Shortly thereafter, the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) initiated a required investigation to determine if the suspension was warranted. A first impaired driving offense can be resolved in a few months or extend much longer depending on the availability of attorneys and board members, or if the officer decides to appeal the disciplinary decision.

Over the past five years, POST’s board of directors has suspended or revoked the licenses of 58 agents. A felony and some felony convictions result in automatic revocation. Crimes that have been committed by officers and deputies whose license has been revoked include murder, distribution of child pornography, misconduct of a public official, insurance fraud and identity theft.

Hutchinson, who is serving his first term as sheriff, said in February he would not run for re-election. In addition to the POST board investigation, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association reviewed his conduct for an unspecified incident toward an employee at the sheriffs conference. The non-profit organization, which provides education and training, has no power to discipline him.

If a peace officer’s license is suspended, they cannot work as a sworn officer and make arrests. If an officer was employed by an agency and assigned to a position that does not require them to perform the duties associated with a sworn officer, they may continue to work there.

Mark Schneider, Hutchinson’s attorney, said he could not comment. Erik Misselt, executive director of POST’s board, said he couldn’t publicly share any information or confirm whether they were investigating the sheriff.

“If there is a conviction for an offense that is within the jurisdiction of the council, we will respond to it,” he said.

Since the Hutchinson crash, local and state politicians and community activists have demanded he step down before his term ends in January. However, Hutchinson refused. If his license is suspended, it’s unclear whether he would lose some of his annual salary of $188,775.

Hutchinson was driving over 126mph, unbelted and carrying a loaded gun when he crashed his SUV around 2.30am, resulting in his hospitalization with broken ribs and vertebrae and a concussion. His blood alcohol level was above 0.13% about three hours after the accident. The state legal limit is 0.08%, but drops to 0.04% for anyone driving and owning a firearm.

Hutchinson admitted to drinking during the conference, which he attended on the final day. He was charged with four impaired driving offenses but two were dropped and another was prosecuted for later dismissal. The sheriff said he had entered treatment for substance abuse issues.

Hutchinson has kept a low profile since the accident and a handful of candidates have said they will come forward to replace him.

William Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, said his group reviewed some of Hutchinson’s behaviors at the conference, but would not discuss specific concerns.

Hutchinson is now awaiting a possible disciplinary sanction by the POST board. There are several parts to the process, starting with obtaining all relevant court documents. The case is then referred to the Council’s Complaints Investigation Committee for a hearing. There is no hearing for a crime resulting in automatic revocation.

The peace officer and his lawyer can appear before the committee, but it is not mandatory, Misselt said. The committee then decides on any licensing sanctions. The officer may agree to a consent order that details disciplinary results or request a contested case hearing before an administrative judge. The final sanction of the license is presented to the entire POST board for approval behind closed doors.

Some well-known officers who lost their licenses include former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, and Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of manslaughter involuntary after shooting Justine Damond; and former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who was convicted of manslaughter in the murder of Daunte Wright.

Other officers on the list have convictions for sports betting, bribery, arson and the use of a dangerous weapon.

Since 1981, the board has revoked the license of a single officer who was convicted in 2001 of a serious impaired driving offense. But several officers who have been convicted of homicide or criminal operation while driving a vehicle have lost their peace officer licenses.

Milton S. Rodgers