No charges for Duluth legislator in rest stop oral sex case
The St. Louis County Attorney's office won't pursue charges in an Interstate 35 rest stop incident last month that police reports show involved state Rep. Kerry Gauthier and 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 Thursday 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 on Thursday.
In an interview with police on July 31, Gauthier said he met the 17-year-old after he put an ad on Craigslist, according to police reports.
The 17-year-old told an officer he responded to the ad and that he and Gauthier agreed to meet at Thompson Hill, according to the reports. He said they walked to a wooded area behind the rest stop pavilion for five minutes, where they engaged in fondling and 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 explaining why he wouldn't press charges, County Attorney Mark Rubin said in a memo to Duluth police that the age of consent in Minnesota is 16. The 17-year-old told police that he didn't know who Gauthier was, meaning Gauthier couldn't be charged for using his position of authority over a juvenile.
Rubin's memo made no mention of why charges weren't filed for allegedly having sex in a public place. But Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said charges wouldn't be applicable for public nuisance or disorderly conduct because no witness complained about the incident or saw it.
Gauthier 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 Thursday that she could "neither confirm nor deny" that Gauthier was at the hospital.
Gauthier absent from meeting
Because he was hospitalized, Gauthier missed a meeting in St. Paul on Thursday about a disaster-relief bill that is expected to pass during a legislative special session next week. Gauthier was among the most vocal supporters of flood relief at last week's meeting.
"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.
"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.
Gauthier represents Minnesota House District 7B, which covers parts of central and all of western Duluth. He was uncontested in the primary but faces Republican Travis Silvers of Duluth in the November general election.
According to the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office, a legislative candidate cannot drop out of a race after a primary.
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."
'Zip it up and leave'
Investigative reports in the Thompson Hill incident were made public Thursday by the city of Duluth after the county attorney decided not to pursue charges, making the case inactive.
According to the reports:
Law enforcement discovered the alleged sexual encounter on July 22 at Thompson Hill after a woman told a state trooper that she and her boyfriend were eating dinner in their car when a male she described as "skinny with baggy pants and T-shirt" urinated next to their car.
As troopers searched for the male, they went behind a rest area building and encountered a man they later learned was Gauthier.
Gauthier "put his left hand in his pocket as he got close and I drew my pistol and held it in a drawn back position so he would not see it," Trooper Scott Parker wrote, "I then asked him what was in his pocket. He said it was a cell phone and slowly pulled it out. I told him he shouldn't walk up to us with his hands in his pockets."
Parker said he asked Gauthier where he was coming from, "and he did not answer my question. Instead he said he was headed home. He commented that he was coming from home from the Cities."
Gauthier told Parker that he didn't see anybody in the wooded area where he was coming from when asked. The trooper then used his flashlight to see if Gauthier had any weapons.
"It was at that time I noted his zipper was open and part of his shirt was hanging out. I asked him why his zipper was down and he said he didn't know," Parker wrote. "I told him to zip it up and leave. The male seemed nervous."
The trooper said he let Gauthier go because he was still looking for the young male who urinated next to someone's car.
'Could tell he wasn't 18'
The troopers said they eventually found the 17-year-old in the rest stop parking lot. According to their reports, the teen initially denied that he was with Gauthier in the wooded area, but then admitted to it after a trooper accused him of lying.
"He stated that he had met an older man at the rest area after corresponding with him in a response to a Craigslist ad," a trooper wrote.
The teen told them he had oral sex with Gauthier and the two fondled each other, that the sex was consensual and that he told Gauthier he was 18. But Parker said he told the teen, "I could tell he wasn't 18 just by looking at him. At that point, (he) fell against his (car) and almost to the ground."
The teen told the troopers that he wasn't "out" to his parents and asked that they not tell his parents of the incident.
When asked for a description of the man, the teen described the same person troopers had just met coming out of the wooded area, and the teen identified Gauthier in a picture. He also provided Gauthier's cell phone number.
City representatives declined to identify the 17-year-old because he is a juvenile and he asked that his identity not be revealed.
Gauthier 'not going to be honest with me'
When a Duluth police officer called Gauthier on July 31 about the incident, a police report indicates that Gauthier initially denied anything happened.
Gauthier at first told the officer that on July 22 he stopped at the rest area to use the bathroom, then went to the lookout, the reports states. When he was getting ready to leave, he was stopped by a state patrol officer who asked what he was doing.
When the officer told Gauthier in the phone interview that he had already spoken to the 17-year-old about what happened, the officer wrote, "Gauthier's response was 'I don't know what you're talking about.' At this point I felt that Gauthier was not going to be honest with me."
The officer told Gauthier that the person he allegedly had sex with was 17 and a minor, at which point the officer wrote, "Gauthier responded with 'okay.' "
Gauthier then told the officer that he allegedly met the teen through placing an ad on Craigslist and said they had never met each other before, the report states. He also told the officer during the interview that he had never had that type of encounter at Thompson Hill before and said "it was never going to happen again."
Gauthier said no money was exchanged and the teen didn't know who he was. Gauthier then asked what was next, and the officer told him he needed to confer with other officers and would get back to him if he needed anything further.
"I also talked with Gauthier about the fact that this is a public rest area and we did not want this type of behavior to occur due to the fact that many tourists would be walking in the area and we did not want them to have to see this type of behavior," the officer wrote.
Forum Communications State Capital Bureau reporter Don Davis and News Tribune staff writer Mike Creger contributed to this report.