Missouri AG Calls to Oust Embattled Sheriff

ST. LOUIS (CN) — Missouri’s attorney general on Tuesday asked a federal judge to remove a southeast Missouri sheriff from office, four days after an inmate died in the sheriff’s jail, and a month after the sheriff was charged with robbery and assault.

Attorney General Josh Hawley said Tuesday evening that he has asked the court to remove Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson from office. The request, made Tuesday afternoon, was prompted by the death of an inmate in the Mississippi County jail on Friday.

“My office has already charged Hutcheson with robbery, assault and illegal surveillance,” Hawley said in a statement. “And on Friday, an inmate at the Mississippi County jail died following an altercation in which Hutcheson participated — despite the fact Hutcheson’s license as sheriff has been suspended.

“As soon as I learned of this death, I directed my office to open a full investigation, which is now under way. In the meantime, we are asking the court to strip Hutcheson of his office of sheriff and prevent him from interfering in any way with our investigation and other law enforcement efforts.”

Hutcheson was elected sheriff of Mississippi County in November 2016 and took office on Jan. 1. Hawley’s office announced on April 5 that Hutcheson had been arrested on 18 criminal charges, including assault, robbery and forgery. The two sets of charges were filed after an investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the FBI.

Mississippi County is just north of Missouri’s rural Bootheel, on the Mississippi River, 150 miles south of St. Louis. Its population of 14,232 – a density of just 34 people per square mile – was 73.3 percent white in 2014, according to city-data.com. The county’s median household income is $29,562, far below the state average of $50,238.

Also Tuesday, two civil rights lawsuits were filed against Hutcheson in St. Louis Federal Court — by Highway Patrolmen.

The officers claim Hutcheson falsified forms to a company called Securus, in order to “ping” their cell phones, to get unlawful information about them.

“Plaintiffs were not under any type of investigation at the time, nor was there any other lawful reason for defendant to be spying on them,” five officers say in one of the lawsuits, from lead plaintiff William T. Cooper.

The officers seek an injunction prohibiting Hutcheson from further violations of the Stored Communications Act and punitive damages for civil rights and Stored Communications Act violations and invasion of privacy. Both complaints were filed by Curtis Poore of the Limbaugh Firm in Cape Girardeau.

The attorney general’s statement did not specify when the alleged acts took place, but did say that the first set of charges allege that while Hutcheson was a sheriff’s officer he illegally pinged the cellphones of several members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Mississippi County sheriff, and Circuit Judge David Dolan.

The second set of charges claim that Hutcheson, while in uniform, handcuffed a 77-year-old woman with enough force that she suffered a heart attack. The woman hospitalized for three days.

The attorney general said the woman was targeted because she had a civil dispute with one of Hutcheson’s family members. Hutcheson is also accused of issuing a false probable cause statement, claiming that the elderly woman kidnapped and assaulted his family member.

Mississippi County Jail administrator Sally Gammons-Yanez, on behalf of the sheriff’s office, confirmed to the Southeast Missourian that Hutcheson had been arrested on April 5, but said he was back and handling the duties of sheriff by 5 p.m. that day.

An employee answering the phone late Tuesday night at the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Department said no one was available to comment.

On Friday, Tory Sanders, 28, of Nashville, Tennessee, died in the Mississippi County Jail. Mississippi County Coroner Terry Parker told the Missourian that Sanders died at 8:08 p.m. shortly after being taken by ambulance to the Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston.

The results of an autopsy performed Saturday were incomplete, and there were “no signs of traumatic injury,” Parker said, and no evidence that Sanders had been Tasered or placed in a chokehold.

A toxicology report will not be available for several weeks.

The coroner told the newspaper that Parker said Sanders had a history of mental illness and that he may have had a psychotic episode that made him difficult to restrain.

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