Prosecutors dismiss criminal charges against Benton County Sheriff Hatcher

Criminal charges against Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher have been dismissed because detectives need more time to investigate the case, said prosecutors.

Hatcher, 56, was charged one week ago in Benton County Superior Court with felony witness tampering and fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.

On Wednesday, an order to dismiss the charges was filed by the special prosecutor in Spokane handling the case.

The order was signed Tuesday by Judge David Elofson with Yakima County Superior Court, however it was only submitted to the Benton County court late Wednesday afternoon.

The case against Hatcher — which stemmed from domestic abuse allegations by his estranged wife — was dismissed without prejudice, which means it can be re-filed at a later date.

Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor G. Mark Cipolla said in his dismissal motion that “further investigation by the Washington State Patrol is required prior to proceeding with prosecution.”

Richland attorney Scott Johnson, who represented Hatcher on the criminal charges, said this case serves as an example of the danger of rushing to judgment.

“Sheriff Hatcher was relieved but not surprised by the filing,” Johnson said in a news release. “Since the beginning of this case, Sheriff Hatcher has maintained his innocence and was confident that when all of the facts were exposed, the case against him would fall apart.”

“Sheriff Hatcher thanks all of those people who have supported him,” Johnson added. “He is eager to get back to his regular duties as sheriff of Benton County.”

Hatcher had not yet appeared in court on the criminal case. He was sent a summons to appear Oct. 23 to enter a plea.

The dismissal comes one day after Monica Hatcher and Jerry Hatcher appeared in court on their divorce case, filed Sept. 18 by the wife.

Monica Hatcher initially did not seek a protection or restraining order against her husband of eight years.

But then on Oct. 4 she filed a petition in the divorce case claiming Jerry Hatcher had strangled and threatened her in December 2017 when she confronted her husband about an ongoing extramarital affair.

As investigators were looking into those claims, Monica Hatcher said her husband forced her to recant her abuse statements by writing a four-page email to a detective saying she is “confused about quite a lot of things” and cannot in good faith swear to what happened two years ago.

Monica Hatcher eventually sent the email so she could provide proof to her husband, but told investigators the following day that Jerry Hatcher was trying to manipulate her and other witnesses into not cooperating.

Jerry Hatcher emphatically denied the allegations and described them as “inflammatory and damaging.”

Protection order

He has not been working in the office since being charged Oct. 9, but both Hatcher and his attorney have said he is not stepping aside.

Hatcher earlier told the Tri-City Herald that something going on in his personal life “has no bearing on what goes on inside the sheriff’s office.”

The four unions that represent Benton County Sheriff’s Office employees previously called for their embattled leader to immediately resign.

Their “united message,” issued in an Oct. 10 letter, said the elected sheriff should “not drag the employees, the reputation of this office or our community through his court process.”

Hatcher was ordered to surrender all his guns and his concealed pistol permits as part of the temporary protection order granted to his wife on Oct. 4.

He followed the order and has handed them over to Kennewick police.

During Tuesday’s hearing on the protection order, Hatcher’s divorce attorney Mason Pickett announced that both parties had agreed to a three-month extension of the temporary order until mid-January.

As part of the order, Jerry Hatcher is to stay 1,000 feet away from his wife, including when she is at home or work.

Pickett said they needed the additional time so the defense on both the criminal and family court cases can conduct their own investigation.

There is no requirement for a sheriff to leave the position, even if he cannot carry a gun.

Hatcher was first appointed in May 2017 following the early retirement of Sheriff Steve Keane.

Hatcher’s lawyers have said the criminal case was “politically motivated” because Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin and Prosecutor Andy Miller were involved initially when Monica Hatcher came forward with the domestic violence allegations.

Miller said he recognized that it should be handled by people outside the county, and asked the Washington State Patrol to take the lead on the investigation and the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office to review and follow through with any prosecution.

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Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.