Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson won't seek re-election after drunk-driving crash

Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, who drove drunk in a county-owned vehicle at 126 miles an hour and then lied to police about being behind the wheel, says he will not seek re-election in November. 

"This was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my life, but after spending the past month having discussions with family, friends, and supporters, I realize that this decision is best for the community, our agency and for me," Hutchinson said in an email to sheriff's office staff Wednesday morning.

Hutchinson said he plans to serve out the rest of his term, defiantly posting on his website that he would not let "political figures with alternative motives" push him out.

He has a financial incentive not to resign immediately. While state law allows sheriffs to get their previous job back after leaving office, Hutchinson would be leaving his $185,775 sheriff's salary for his former position as Metro Transit Police sergeant, which paid $96,720 in 2018, the year Hennepin County voters elected him.

Hutchinson had just left a Minnesota Sheriff's Association conference in Alexandria when he crashed his county-owned 2021 Ford Explorer into the Interstate 94 medium five miles outside of the city on Dec. 8. The sheriff quickly pled guilty in December to fourth-degree driving while intoxicated. 

The prosecutor has since said he did not know Hutchinson's speed before the guilty plea. Minnesota has an extreme speed law for speeds more than 100 miles per hour that carries automatic driver's license revocation, but it was never charged.

At the time of the plea, the sheriff said he planned to run for re-election this fall. But Hutchinson's campaign funding dried up after the crash, closing any path the sheriff had to re-election. Hutchinson got only a single campaign contribution worth $250 in the 23 days after his arrest, according to his 2021 year-end campaign finance report.

Support for the sheriff quickly eroded after court records and police reports about the crash about the became public. Hutchinson is shown on squad car video repeatedly claiming that he wasn't driving when questioned by a Douglas County Sheriff's deputy.

A majority of the Hennepin County Board called for his resignation. Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, and numerous state lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have also called for Hutchinson to step down.

Asked on Wednesday about Hutchinson's decision not to seek re-election, Walz said he still thought the sheriff should resign.

"I do think a transition would probably be best. It’s not my place to make it," said Walz, who has no control over elected sheriffs. "I think having any distraction is probably not that healthy."

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Lunde, who chairs the county board's public safety committee, said Hutchinson's decision will allow the county to move forward.

"Everybody’s pretty consistent about wanting to pull together. I think this just takes something off the table that was kind of an unknown, and now we have certainty," Lunde said. "The important part is, we’ve got lots of people in the sheriff’s department, lots of professionals, who know what needs to be done." 

Lunde said Hutchinson should pay the county back for the wrecked Ford Explorer. As of last week, Hutchinson had not made any payments.

The sheriff's path back to Metro Transit may become complicated. The agency requires its officers to be licensed by Minnesota's Police Officer Standards and Training Board, and Hutchinson's guilty plea triggered a licensure review. The board has said it cannot comment about the status of investigations until a final vote on sanctions.

Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler and Senate DFL Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen, who both live in Hennepin County, said Hutchinson's decision to retire at year's end was the right one.. Winkler, who is running for Hennepin County attorney, said a resignation would've forced the county board to choose an interim sheriff, potentially giving one of the candidates a campaign advantage. 

Bloomington police officer Jai Hanson and Dakota County Community Corrections Director Suwana Kirkland are already in the race. With Hutchinson's decision making it an open seat, more could join.