Former Omaha Fire Chief and current State Sen. Mike McDonnell said Thursday that he takes “full responsibility” for his arrest early Thursday on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Records show that McDonnell, 52, was booked into the Sarpy County Jail after being stopped by the Nebraska State Patrol just before 1 a.m. Thursday. He was arrested on suspicion of first-offense DUI, failure to stay in a traffic lane and two refusals to submit to a breath-alcohol test.
McDonnell was released after paying 10 percent of $2,500 bail shortly after 2 a.m.
McDonnell, a Democrat, represents District 5, which includes parts of midtown and South Omaha.
Later Thursday morning, McDonnell appeared to be emotional as he addressed his colleagues on the floor of the Legislature in Lincoln.
“Last night I was pulled over for not maintaining my lane on I-80,” McDonnell said.
“The trooper was professional. He was polite. I refused ... . We are held to a higher standard.”
“I take full responsibility for my actions and the decisions I make,” he continued, “but I also need to apologize to this body for making a decision that was more about me than about the people I’m representing in my district and the great state of Nebraska.
“I apologize to my wife and son, the people of my district and the members of the Legislature, which I’m honored and proud to serve in.”
After McDonnell spoke, several state senators approached him to shake his hand or hug him.
As a state senator, McDonnell’s prosecution will be delayed until the session ends in mid-April.
Talking to reporters later, McDonnell said he was stopped on his way home from a business-related event in Lincoln. He said there were no lobbyists or fellow senators at the event.
He did not say whether he would contest the charges or seek diversion. He vowed to work through the judicial process and “fully cooperate” with Sarpy County courts.
He said he has no plans to resign from the Legislature, saying he will focus on representing the residents of his Omaha legislative district and of Nebraska.
He was named president of the Omaha Federation of Labor in November. McDonnell said his status with the group will be up to the organization’s executive board and members.
He promised the incident would “definitely” be a one-time occurrence.
“At the time, I thought I was making a good decision,” he said. “My decisions were selfish.”
In recent decades, at least, state lawmakers have been tolerant of colleagues convicted of drunken driving.
There were no calls for the resignation of State Sens. Scott Lautenbaugh and Kermit Brashear of Omaha and Danielle (Nantkes) Conrad of Lincoln after their convictions. All remained in office.
Lautenbaugh was issued a ticket on Feb. 27, 2013, for DUI after being pulled over for erratic driving. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to two days of house arrest, one year of probation and a $500 fine.
Conrad pleaded guilty to first-offense DUI and refusing to take a breath-alcohol test after running into a city snowplow in February 2007. She was sentenced to a $500 fine and 12 months of probation and had her license suspended for 60 days.
Brashear was convicted of drunken driving in 1996. He pleaded no contest and was fined $150, placed on six months of probation and had his licenses suspended for 60 days.
McDonnell is a Gross High and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate. He has a master’s degree in public administration from Bellevue University. He served in the Fire Department from 1989 to 2013, spending the last six years of his career as fire chief. He was named to the position by Mayor Mike Fahey.
McDonnell was forced out of the job in 2013 by Mayor Jean Stothert, who clashed with the firefighters union and McDonnell over funding issues.