A Hennepin County District Court judge has sentenced National Hockey League standout Dustin Byfuglien, 27, to two days in the county workhouse for a boating incident on Lake Minnetonka last summer.
Byfuglien and his lawyers agreed to deal with county attorneys Monday, entering a guilty plea to a misdemeanor careless boating charge and avoiding trial. Byfuglien will also pay a $1,000 fine for violating Lake Minnetonka Conservation District ordinances.
A boat piloted by Byfuglien was stopped around 8:15 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 31 for improper navigational lighting. Officers allege Byfuglien's speech was slurred during an ensuing conversation with the water patrol and that his eyes were blood shot and his balance unsteady. He later admitted to taking a muscle relaxer earlier in the day. Byfuglien also had improper lighting and insufficient floatation devices aboard the boat.
While his .03 blood alcohol level was well below the state's .08 legal threshold for operating a watercraft or motor vehicle, the arresting officer felt he had probable cause to take Byfuglien into custody.
"The guilty plea has nothing to do with alcohol or drugs—it's an ordinance violation," Byfuglien's attorney Mitch Robinson said. "I think it's a fair resolution. I said from the get go that Mr. Byfuglien was not under the influence of drugs, that he was not under the influence of alcohol and he never refused to take a chemical test after he had a chance to speak with his attorney."
Robinson said there have been a "lot of discussions over the past year" with Hennepin County prosecutors and that Monday's plea deal was the result of the state "seeing things in a different light."
The Winnipeg Jets defenseman’s attorneys wanted Byfuglien’s term to be served at a local hockey camp, where he could teach kids and sign autographs, but Judge Ronald Abrams turned down that idea.
“You will be treated like anyone else,” Abrams stated, meaning his two-day term could be spent picking up trash or painting over graffiti as part of community service.
Ben Hankinson, Byfuglien's agent, said he viewed the guilty plea as being to a charge minor in nature and that it would have no effect on Byfuglien's career or in any future contract negotiations.
Byfuglien's trial was far bigger news in Winnipeg than it was in Minneapolis. A conviction on an alcohol-related offense could have jeopardized his ability to freely enter Canada, where strict rules govern the visas of those found guilty of driving (or boating) while intoxicated. Several Winnipeg news outlets were in the courtroom Monday.
The NHL returned to Winnipeg last season after the city was without a professional hockey team for more than a decade. The original Jets franchise moved to Phoenix in 1996, and the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to "The Peg" in 2011.
A native of Minnesota, Byfuglien will enter his third year with the Winnipeg Jets and just completed the second year of a five-year contract worth north of $25 million.
“I’m glad this is over,” Byfulglien told Lake Minnetonka Patch Monday. “It won’t affect my preparation for the season. I’m glad to have this behind me.”
The all-star was then asked if he’d ever hit Lake Minnetonka’s waters again.
“You never know,” he replied with a chuckle.
Kevin Cheveldayoff, General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club, has issued the following statement on behalf of True North Sports & Entertainment in regards to the settlement of the case involving Dustin Byfuglien:
“After allowing the legal process to play out, we are thankful to see this matter resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved. As an organization, the Winnipeg Jets are happy this is behind Dustin and he can look forward to the upcoming hockey season, along with the rest of the team and their passionate fan base.”