Search warrant: Sheriff initially denied driving SUV when he crashed

Medina police report says Hutchinson not involved in photographer probe

By: - January 4, 2022 2:50 pm

Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson. Photo courtesy of Hennepin County.

A search warrant shows Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson repeatedly denied to a sheriff’s deputy that he was driving his county car when it crashed Dec. 8 on an interstate near Alexandria, even claiming at one point that a cab driver was behind the wheel when it crashed.

Hutchinson has since pleaded guilty to driving drunk after leaving a state sheriffs’ conference on Dec. 8, and crashing the SUV.

Separately, a Medina police report indicates Hutchinson was not involved in a request that Medina police investigate an independent photojournalist who got photos of the sheriff’s totaled black Ford Explorer, and whether she’d trespassed or “planted” items in Hutchinson’s car.

The State Patrol was asked to assist the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office at the crash site. 

In a search warrant application, State Patrol Sgt. Rod Eischens wrote that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call about 2:33 a.m. reporting a one-vehicle rollover five miles east of Alexandria on Interstate 94. 

According to the Medina police report and State Patrol search warrant application, Trooper Brian Beuning was called out to investigate the crash, and was told by a Douglas County sergeant that the lone occupant at the scene was Sheriff Hutchinson, who “denied being the driver of the vehicle to both witnesses at the scene and deputies upon their arrival” even though nobody else was found in the vehicle or nearby.  

Beuning went to Alomere hospital in Alexandria, where Douglas County sheriff’s deputy Dylan Kriese told him that when he arrived at the scene, Hutchinson was on the shoulder of l-94 and had a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and poor balance.

Kriese said Hutchinson told him several times he was not driving, and at one point, said that he had called a cab and that “the cab driver was driving the vehicle.”

Beuning was allowed to collect Hutchinson’s blood or urine at the hospital, noting in his search warrant application that a bottle of bourbon was seen in the passenger compartment.

Eischens searched Hutchinson’s county-owned SUV while it was stored inside a building in the State Patrol’s secured lot, and collected items listed in the warrant. 

The search warrant, obtained by the Reformer, shows Eischens was looking for an airbag control module, deployed driver-side airbag and open containers of alcoholic beverages or other evidence of alcohol consumption. He also sought DNA swabs off the steering wheel. 

The airbag control module contains an event data recorder that can contain information about the vehicle’s speed, braking and sometimes, “occupant seat status” five to eight seconds before a crash.

On Dec. 9, Eischens searched the SUV and collected the airbag control module, deployed airbag and an iPhone.

The SUV was towed from the scene to a Douglas County impound lot, then moved to an impound lot at the State Patrol headquarters in Detroit Lakes, before being towed to Medina on Dec. 14 after being searched.

Medina police clear photojournalist after investigation  

A Medina police report, released to the Reformer on Tuesday after being requested last week, details why Medina police officer Josh McKinley investigated an independent photojournalist who took  photos of Hutchinson’s mangled SUV.

McKinley knocked on the door of Rebecca Brannon’s parents’ Eden Prairie home on Dec. 17, a day after she posted photos on Twitter of Hutchinson’s crashed car. Brannon had tracked down Hutchinson’s mangled SUV in a fenced, gated lot outside the Hennepin County Public Works building in Medina.

Medina Police Chief Jason Nelson asked McKinley to come in on Dec. 17 to investigate how Brannon got access to Hutchinson’s vehicle, according to the police report. 

The incident was reported by Lisa Cerney, assistant county administrator with Hennepin County Public Works. The county’s “point of contact” was Chela Guzman-Wiegert, assistant county administrator.

“Members of Hennepin County were concerned because it appeared some items were potentially planted in the squad,” the police report says.

Chief Nelson wrote in the report that he was asked on Dec. 17 to have a virtual meeting with Hennepin County employees regarding possible trespassing at their public works facility. He attended a meeting with County Manager David Hugh and “several others” and was told about the photos of Hutchinson’s vehicle. 

Nelson told the Reformer that none of those “others” was Hutchinson.

“It was strictly county administration,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the sheriff’s department.”

Cerney gave Nelson a flash drive with video surveillance footage showing Brannon’s BMW SUV enter their yard through an open gate on Dec. 16 and drive directly to Hutchinson’s vehicle. The video shows Brannon photographing Hutchinson’s vehicle for about an hour. 

“Through the investigation there was some concern about some of the items that were photographed inside the sheriff’s vehicle and some questions on who those items belonged to and how they got inside the vehicle,” Nelson wrote in the report.

Brannon later admitted to McKinley that she took the photos after being tipped off to its whereabouts by “several sources,” including some in law enforcement. She noted the gate was open and she saw no “no trespassing” signs.

McKinley and Nelson both concluded no crime had been committed by Brannon since the gate was open and no signs prohibited trespassing.

Hutchinson’s attorney has accused Brannon of “staging” some of her photos, which she denied, although she admitted she moved some items around to take photos. She took photos of a nicotine salt vaping device and what she called “weed gummies” but what are hemp-based gummies, posting some of the photos on Twitter.

Nelson asked Eischens if he saw some of the items Brannon photographed and posted on social media, and Eichens said he didn’t, but wasn’t looking for them either. Eischens told Nelson if he’d seen anything impairment-related he would have photographed it.

Asked whether the SUV was considered evidence at the time Brannon entered it and took photos, Chief Nelson said he couldn’t say for sure, but when the State Patrol released it to Hennepin County after doing its search, they apparently didn’t consider it to be.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.