Our drunk sheriff & the SUV he rode in on

Robert Mitchum played drunken sheriff J.P. Harrah in the classic Howard Hawks film El Dorado. As one thing leads to another in the movie, John Wayne’s Cole Thornton embarrasses Harrah into sobering up. Quotable quote: “I’m lookin’ at a tin star with a… drunk pinned on it.”

In the Twin Cities, we are in a John Wayne, call your office situation. What we really need, however, is someone who can embarrass the Star Tribune into doing its job. That is a tall order. Offhand, I can’t think of anyone capable of it.

Hennepin County is the populous Minnesota county including the city of Minneapolis and its near suburbs. David Hutchinson is the sheriff of the county. Insofar as Hennepin County is deeply challenged by law enforcement issues of all kinds, the sheriff’s position is an important job. Last month Hutchinson was involved in a drunk driving accident in the early morning hours (2:30 a.m.) of December 8. These are some of the relevant facts as they have emerged to date:

• Hutchinson attended a sheriffs’ convention at the Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, Minnesota before heading back to the Twin Cities on Interstate 94 on December 8.

• He had a lot to drink before heading back to the Twin Cities in the early morning hours. He only made it five miles out of town as he headed home by himself.

• He was driving a county-owned Ford Explorer when he crashed his vehicle in a one-car rollover accident. Hutchinson was injured and the vehicle was totaled.

• When a urine sample was tested by State Highway Patrol officers after the accident, Hutchinson blood alcohol level was measured at 0.13. Hutchinson was driving seriously impaired.

• Hutchinson had an open bottle of “Eagle Rare Bourbon” in the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

• Local journalist Rebecca Brannon tracked the vehicle down at a lot in the Twin Cities suburb Medina. She posted the photos below and more on Twitter.

• Brannon has also posted audio of the highway patrol dispatching officers to the scene. “Caller states male party was crawling along the road.” “You’ll need a flatbed and it’s…it’s completely wrecked here.”

• Hutchinson told officers at the scene of his drunken driving crash that someone else was driving his vehicle.

• Hutchinson issued a statement following the accident including the obligatory acceptance of “full responsibility.” This is the operative paragraph: “I take full responsibility for my actions and am prepared to accept the consequences of my poor decision. I am relieved that no one else was injured in the crash. I will immediately address my personal issues surrounding alcohol and seek the help I need to continue to serve the people of Hennepin County.”

• Hutchinson was charged with four misdemeanors including carrying a pistol under the influence of alcohol. On December 16 he pleaded to one count of drunk driving with dismissal of two other charges and continuance for dismissal of the drunk with a pistol charge. He will do no time. He has returned to the job and is moving on.

• Brannon adds these notes.

• Hutchinson appears to be an alcoholic. In his statement he put it this way: “I will immediately address my personal issues surrounding alcohol and seek the help I need to continue to serve the people of Hennepin County.” He seems to imply elsewhere that he has previously been treated for alcoholism.

• The Star Tribune stories on the accident have been vague on Hutchinson’s alcohol issues. The latest of these is David Chanen’s December 26 story with this quote: “Hutchinson said he doesn’t believe he has ever intended to drink and drive in the past, but he can’t be sure it hasn’t happened. Alcohol has never impacted his work as sheriff, he said.” And this: “He admitted to sometimes drinking alcohol to turn off his ‘struggles and stress,’ but said treatment has taught him other ways to cope, such as going to the gym, reading a book or taking a walk.” He has a problem.

• The Star Tribune published an editorial on Hutchinson’s accident on December 9. It is an exercise in apologetics derivative of “DFL privilege,” as our friends at Justice & Drew call it (and they nailed this example of it from day one). This is the Star Tribune’s last editorial word on the case so far.

• As a result of her efforts to cover the story, the Medina police called on Rebecca Brannon — at the request of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Last week Deena Winter covered this development for Minnesota Reformer in “Police looked into how journalist got photos of Hennepin County sheriff’s wrecked SUV.” Subhead: “Independent photojournalist Rebecca Brannon said police interviewed her about photos.” Brannon’s photo below accompanied Winter’s story. Hutchinson and his department are both a disgrace. Winter’s most recent story on the case is here.

• Brannon joined Justice & Drew in-studio to discuss her coverage of the case during the third hour of yesterday’s show. Brannon itemizes several irregularities in the handling of the case. Here you will also learn that, in addition to his other failings, Hutchinson is a pig.

Everything about the handling of the case reeks of privilege. As they say in the world of problem drinking, we need an intervention, and not only to deal with the continuing problem of David Hutchinson.

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