Sheriff Hutchinson accused of creating hostile work environment, sending racist and homophobic texts

Editor’s note: This story contains language some might find triggering or disturbing.

Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson is seeking permanent disability for PTSD even as members of his command staff have made a complaint that he created a hostile and discriminatory work environment, FOX 9 has learned.  

The FOX 9 Investigators have obtained personal text messages and office emails that members of the sheriff’s command staff provided in April to an outside investigator hired by Hennepin County to review the allegations.  

Hutchinson has been on medical leave since May 18. In a brief phone conversation Thursday, he confirmed he recently filed the paperwork for PTSD disability.  

Sheriff Hutchinson’s high-profile troubles began Dec. 8 after leaving a law enforcement conference in Alexandria when he rolled his county-issued SUV on I-94 while traveling at 126 mph.  

Three hours after the crash, a breathalyzer showed a BAC of .13, above the legal limit of .08. A week later, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of drunk driving.  

Racist and homophobic text messages 

In personal text messages Hutchinson sent to a member of his command staff in the weeks and months after the drunk driving crash, he makes derogatory racial and homophobic comments.  

In a text message from Dec. 30, he refers to Suwana Kirkland, director of Dakota County Community Corrections, who at the time was seeking the DFL endorsement for Hennepin County Sheriff.  

"She get (sic) dfl for sure. Black all the (sic) care about," Hutchinson texted to a member of his staff.

"People are sick of black people getting things solely on being black," Hutchinson continued.

Kirkland, who is African American, dropped out of the race to focus on her growing family.  

When told about Hutchinson’s text messages, Kirkland said the comments reflected "a person who’s hurting and who has some issues to get right and fix themselves."  

"I would hope they seek the help they need," Kirkland said.

Asked in the text thread about not seeking the DFL endorsement himself, Hutchinson texts, "It’s so freeing. I hated them last time. And the (sic) loved me. I can’t imagen (sic) doing it with them hating me and me wanting to kill them. I hate them."

Hutchinson announced Feb. 2 he would not be seeking reelection in November.  

In another text on May 3, a command staff member asks Hutchinson if he needs any information in preparation for a phone call with Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell.  

Hutchinson responds, "Idk. Maybe. ‘F--k you-ya bald mumbling f----t,’" using a homophobic slur.

When Hutchinson was elected in 2018, he was lauded in HuffPost as the "first openly gay sheriff in the Midwest."  

Schnell, at Governor Tim Walz’s request, had been assisting in a complaint against a Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputy accused of pepper-spraying a member of the press during protests over the killing of Daunte Wright. 

An outside investigator  

During lengthy interviews in April, members of Hutchinson’s command staff told the outside investigator, Amy Kern of KZ Workplace, they had endured a discriminatory and hostile work environment that only escalated with Hutchinson’s personal problems.

In an email to Kern, a different member of Hutchinson’s command staff said the offensive conduct included "slurs, epithets, name-calling, threats, intimidation, ridicule, mockery, insults and put-downs, and offensive pictures. All of this by Sheriff Hutchinson, directed at his subordinates."

Hutchinson allegedly became aware his senior staff were reviewing timecards to show he was falsifying work hours for himself and three subordinates and threatened to retaliate. 

"He (Hutchinson) stated that if he found out who from the Command Staff was looking into his time and reporting it, they would ‘regret it,’" said the email to the outside investigator.

"He stated, ‘Bring it on. There’s nothing that anyone can do to me.’ He further stated that the Governor tried to take him down, the County Board tried to take him down, and the MN POST Board tried to take him down, and they all failed. He then stated that we would fail, too," according to the email. 

Members of the command staff told the FOX 9 Investigators that after the episode, they feared for their personal safety.  

It is unclear whether Kern, the outside investigator, has even written a report for the county summarizing the allegations.  

Hennepin County Administrator David Hough confirmed there are two pending complaints against Hutchinson but said he could not discuss the complaints due to state privacy laws.

Current and former command staff members tell FOX 9 they believe Hutchinson is using his disability claim to secure his pension, avoid accountability, and run out the clock on his term in office.

"Part of my/our frustration is that we feel we stuck our necks out and reported this harassment, and that Sheriff Hutchinson is not being held accountable for his actions," said the email from the Command Staff member.  

"He seems to have been afforded the ability to take a medical leave of absence to avoid accountability and responsibility for his actions. It was only after we reported our concerns for our physical safety that the County decided to act," the email said. 

If Hutchinson remains on medical leave and doesn’t return to office before his term expires in January 2023, it sets up a scenario where the complaints against him will not be sustained and may never become a matter of public record. 

Statement from Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office sent FOX 9 this statement on Wednesday:

"The 800 men and women of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) take great pride in serving our residents with integrity, empathy, compassion, and professionalism.

"We are deeply disappointed and disheartened by these allegations, as they run completely counter to our organization’s core values. The reported incidents are currently under investigation by an outside entity; therefore our ability to comment is limited.

"We want to assure the public and all of our partners that our deputies and civilian staff remain fully committed to improving public safety and fulfilling our organization’s overarching mission, which is to serve and protect all in our community by furthering equal justice, safety, and wellness."