Newly-released documents show that high-level Hennepin County officials initiated an investigation into photojournalist Rebecca Brannon after she reported on Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson’s drunk-driving accident.
This investigation included sending a police officer to her parents’ home and attempting to track her movements about the city after she legally photographed the sheriff’s ruined squad car.
Hutchinson rolled his police car off the highway near Alexandria and was found drunkenly “crawling along the road” after a police conference Dec. 8. A search warrant from the case reveals that Hutchinson initially denied that he was even driving his squad car, instead insisting that a cab driver had ruined the vehicle, per the Minnesota Reformer. In the days following this embarrassing accident, Hutchinson took flack from the left and right alike, refused to resign, and claimed that “everybody has” driven drunk at some point.
His public image worsened after Brannon tweeted pictures that show his ruined car sitting in an open Hennepin County Public Works impound lot with THC products onboard. These incendiary images prompted top-level Hennepin County officials to investigate Brannon.
An incident report released Tuesday shows that officer Joshua McKinley of the Medina Police Department was ordered by Medina Police Chief Jason Nelson to investigate.
All of the information I received today was from the Medina Police Department. Below is an incident report from Medina with details on the investigation into Brannon. There are numerous items of note in this report. https://t.co/ZaucKws6x1
— Michael Brodkorb (@mbrodkorb) January 4, 2022
Apparently, Nelson was pressed by the following Hennepin County officials to act after they noticed the pictures: Hennepin County Administrator David Hough, Assistant Administrator of Public Works Lisa Cerney, and Assistant Administrator Chela Guzmán-Wiegert.
Officer McKinley showed up to Brannon’s parents’ home before eventually getting ahold of her. She explained how his probing into her life caused her parents great distress. He apologized and said he was just following orders: “I get told to do something, I say, ‘OK I’ll go do it,'” he reportedly said.
His investigation concluded by noting that Brannon didn’t commit any crimes. She simply drove through an open gate into a government facility and took pictures. His report reads:
“At this time, it does not appear that any crime has occurred involving the trespassing at the Public Works facility. Chief Nelson was able to confirm that there are not any ‘no trespassing’ signs at the gates to the Public Works facility.”
However, the fact that Brannon was simply doing her job as a journalist while not breaking the law didn’t protect her from the state attempting to surveil her movements. A memo from Assistant Administrator Cerney shows that the county requested MNDOT footage of a specific intersection, apparently looking to see where Brannon went after she legally took pictures of the wrecked squad car.
Hutchinson’s attorney and Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson have also accused Brannon of staging the photos. However, McKinley viewed surveillance footage of Brannon’s time at the yard and did not find that she ever tampered with the vehicle. Rather, he said she could be “seen walking around the squad car” taking pictures.
Read the full report here: