By Andy Wolf
On December 3rd of 2015, Deputy Mike “Hutch” Hutchinson of the Deuel County Sheriff’s Department exited his patrol vehicle to serve an arrest warrant on suspect Neil Stretesky, who was wanted for Failure to Appear and Felony Attempted Murder charges.
With his backup at the bottom of the hill that overlooked part of Big Springs Nebraska, Hutchinson shifted his jacket in the cool winter air as he walked to the back of his vehicle to retrieve his ballistic gear.
Suddenly, he was faced with something no officer ever wants to face- an ambush.
Finding himself face to face with a shotgun-armed Stretesky, he was instructed to surrender his service weapon. When he refused, a shot was fired, causing the shotgun to malfunction. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Hutchinson attempted to wrestle the shotgun from Stretesky, turning the altercation into a ground battle.
Then it happened: Hutchinson was shot four times with a 9mm pistol.
Hutchinson doesn’t remember being shot more than once. He doesn’t remember deputies driving up the hill to reinforce him or Stretesky being killed by one of two shots fired from the Sheriff’s AR15. He doesn’t remember being medically evacuated, driven by ambulance for 33 miles, or being kept alive by skilled paramedics and doctors.
What 52-year-old Hutchinson does remember -and will likely never forget- is that Deuel County turned their back on him by faltering on whether or not to pay for the insurance he needs to recover and support his family.
“It really hurts,” the 25-year veteran of law enforcement told LEO Affairs. “I made a commitment, swore an oath and did my duty. When I signed up, they said ‘Mike, we’re gonna give you x amount of pay, health insurance, retirement and life insurance. I made a commitment to them, they have backed out of their commitment to me. ”
Instead of backing up their officer, the poorly-funded county canceled the health insurance he and his wife depend on, leaving them with a COBRA fee that runs about $1,500 a month.
During his treatment, Hutchinson found himself fighting everything from the deadly c.diff infection to the county commissioners who have remained largely apathetic to his precarious position in regards to cutting his benefits.
“My son pointed out to the commissioners that there are policies concerning stuff like this,” Hutchinson said with a betrayed tone. “They didn’t even know what the policy was.”
When asked if the commissioners put the matter to a vote, Hutchinson said that they merely put the matter off. When his attorney asked when they would address it, County Attorney Joel Jay put it plainly.
“He said ‘we’re not gonna make a decision,’ Hutchinson recalled. ‘Ever.”
According to the wounded Deputy, the case itself was poorly managed. No records exist of either medical professionals or the State Police -in charge of the investigation- even recovering the 9mm slugs found inside Hutchinson for the purpose of evidence.
“[The investigator] did a piss-poor job,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson feels that Deuel County has neglected him, from the moment of when they sent him alone into an ambush to when he found his insurance and benefits were cancelled.”
“You know the expression from the military, ‘I’ve got your six?” the eight-year Army veteran asked with disappointment in his voice. “I expected them to be there. My six never felt more open when I was ambushed.”
Hutchinson says even Sheriff R. Scott DeCoste -who shot Stretesky- failed to back him up in the Commissioner’s meeting.
“He’s riding the fence about the whole thing,” the Deputy said. “Didn’t say a damn word in the meeting. When it was over, he just walked away.”
Hutchinson hopes to recover and get back to work, though he is not sure in what capacity or with whom it will be for. Until then, he hopes that justice will be served.
“I left my blood on that hill for Deuel County,” he said. “I just want my commissioners to do the right thing.”
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