By Brandon Stahl, Duluth News Tribune
The St. Louis County Attorney’s office has decided not to pursue charges in an Interstate 35 rest stop incident last month involving state Rep. Kerry Gauthier and an individual police reports have confirmed to be a 17-year-old male.
The Minnesota State Patrol and Duluth Police Department earlier this week told the News Tribune that Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, had contact with a state trooper on July 22 about 11 p.m. at the Thompson Hill rest stop after a “report of suspicious activity.” Records released today show that the State Patrol and Duluth police investigated Gauthier for allegedly having oral sex with a 17-year-old male at the rest stop.
Gauthier, 56, who on Tuesday told the News Tribune, “I think it’s a private matter and I don’t need to talk about it,” could not be reached for comment today.
In an interview with police on July 31, Gauthier said he met the 17-year-old after he put an ad on Craiglist, according to police records.
The 17-year-old allegedly told an officer in an interview that he responded to the ad and that he and Gauthier agreed to meet at Thompson Hill. He said they walked to a wooded area behind the rest stop pavilion and were back there for “five minutes,” when they engaged in oral sex, police reports said.
Both parties told police that the sex was consensual and that no money was exchanged, according to the police reports.
Gauthier told the officer in the interview that the 17-year-old told him he was 18.
The 17-year-old also told police that he told Gauthier he was 18.
In one state trooper’s report, he said he could tell the 17-year-old wasn’t 18 “just by looking at him.”
A witness at the rest stop described him as a skinny young male with baggy pants and a T-shirt.
The identity of the 17-year-old was not released by the city.
Gauthier told an officer during the July 31 interview that he had never had that type of encounter at Thompson Hill before and said “it was never going to happen again.”
County Attorney Mark Rubin has not responded to a call seeking comment on his decision not to file charges in the case. The police sent their reports to his office for his review on Wednesday.
The records were made public by the city of Duluth following the county attorney’s decision not to pursue charges, making the case inactive.
Gauthier, who represents Minnesota House District 7B, which covers parts of central and all of western Duluth, was admitted to a Duluth hospital with an unspecified condition on Wednesday, according to Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner.
Gardner said Gauthier “had trouble breathing” Wednesday morning and was brought to St. Luke’s hospital.
“I’m sure part of it had to do with headlines in the newspaper,” she said.
Duluth Fire Department records confirm that a medical call was made to Gauthier’s residence at 10:14 a.m.
St. Luke’s representative Mary Greene said Wednesday night that she could “neither confirm nor deny” that Gauthier was at the hospital.
Gauthier was missing from Thursday’s meeting about a disaster-relief bill that is expected to pass during a legislative special session next week.
“Gauthier’s absence from today’s legislative hearing on providing his district relief from the floods that devastated Duluth in June raises serious doubts about his ability to continue holding public office,” state Republican Chairman Pat Shortridge said shortly after the meeting.
The lawmaker was among the most vocal supporters of relief at last week’s meeting.
“Today, Gauthier’s constituents have legitimate reason to believe that what he terms a ‘private matter’ is preventing him from doing his job representing them,” Shortridge said.
Democrats would not directly comment on the incident immediately.
“We learned today both that no charges have been filed against Rep. Kerry Gauthier and that he is currently in the hospital recovering from an unknown health issue,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said in a statement. “As such, my immediate concern is for Rep. Gauthier’s health, and for a full and speedy recovery. I have not spoken with Rep. Gauthier.
“I expect he will further address the events of last month once he is fully recovered.”
Republicans questioned why charges are not being pressed and why information was not released right away.
“Why did the Duluth Police Department wait until after the Duluth News Tribune filed the story to send the case to the county attorney?” Shortridge asked.
He also wondered if Gauthier received special treatment.
Since Thissen has not specifically talked about the incident, Shortridge said he wonders if the DFL House leader thinks “that a 56-year-old adult who has sex in a public place with a 17-year-old is fit to serve as a member of the Minnesota Legislature and in the DFL caucus.”
DFL Chairman Ken Martin blasted Republicans for what a Twin Cities television station reported looked like coordinating campaign activities in a Capitol office, but he refused to talk about the Gauthier incident, saying it remains under investigation.
“I don’t think there is a lack of transparency,” Martin said about news media difficulties getting information about the Gauthier situation.
Even though he was with top Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party officials in Duluth Wednesday, he said he knew little of the incident.
Gauthier has not been a legislator who talks a lot in committee or the House floor, but when he does he often is animated and passionate.
One of the issues he discussed came in March of 2011, when he voiced support as a House committee unanimously approved longer sentences for sex offenders.
Gauthier, a therapist, said he is fine with putting more offenders in prison, but said he is concerned that the Corrections Department may not be able to find enough therapists willing to work with prisoners.
“We’re not getting enough treatment (for sex offenders) because we can’t get enough people,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier, serving his first term in the House, sits on public safety, state government and transportation committees.
Don Davis and News Tribune staff writer Mike Creger contributed to this report.