Crime

Benton County sheriff accused of strangling his wife. He ‘emphatically denies’ hurting her

The wife of Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher has accused him of strangling her and making a threat during a fight about an extramarital affair, court documents show.

Monica Hatcher filed for divorce Sept. 18, saying the “marriage is irretrievably broken.”

Then, on Friday, she filed for a temporary protection order against Jerry Hatcher, claiming she is a victim of domestic violence.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller confirmed Monday that the Washington State Patrol is investigating the allegation and said the potential criminal case has been turned over to a special out-of-area prosecutor.

As part of the protection order in the divorce case, Monica Hatcher asked that her husband be required to surrender all guns, dangerous weapons and concealed pistol licenses.

Hatcher, who was at work Monday, told the Tri-City Herald he lives by the rule of law and followed the judge’s order by turning over all his guns to Kennewick police earlier Monday morning.

He said there is a downside to a divorce and that may mean allegations that are not true.

“Divorces sometimes are very ugly and it’s extremely painful for people to go through, and I understand as an elected official that mine is going to be public,” he said.

In the meantime, he plans to continue serving as the county sheriff while dealing with his divorce proceedings and his wife’s “inflammatory and damaging” allegations.

“I’m not going to go somewhere because I’ve been falsely accused of something,” he said. “I’ve lived my whole life for this community.”

Hatcher added that something going on in his personal life “has no bearing on what goes on inside the sheriff’s office. We deliver a great public safety service, and we’re going to continue to do so.”

“I emphatically deny (the allegations) and look forward to the rest of the information coming back out,” said Hatcher.

“I need to work through the process. Once I compile all the information, I will be ready to release a statement, and I will make sure that the electorate understands it,” he said.

Temporary restraining order

Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell signed the temporary restraining order Friday.

Under the order, Jerry Hatcher must move his belongings out of the couple’s Badger Canyon home and cannot come within 1,000 feet of his wife when she is at home or work.

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Sheriff Jerry Hatcher

Monica Hatcher’s request for a permanent order and Jerry Hatcher’s ability to carry guns are likely to be addressed at a court hearing Oct. 15.

Jerry Hatcher, 56, has been sheriff since May 2017 when he was picked to take over the position following the resignation of Steve Keane.

He won a November 2017 election to serve the last year of Keane’s term, then ran unopposed in 2018 for a four-year term.

It does not appear there is any requirement for the sheriff to leave the position, even if he cannot carry a pistol.

Commissioned peace officers can be “discharged for disqualifying misconduct” under a state law.

The grounds for termination for a police officer or sheriff’s deputy include a conviction or conduct that would constitute a crime: in their duties or while acting as an officer; involving dishonesty or false statement; drug possession; or a crime that disqualifies a Washington citizen from the legal right to have a gun under state or federal law.

However, since Hatcher was elected by the voters of Benton County, he likely can only be removed from office by a recall effort or his own resignation.

Protection order petition

Monica Hatcher, 50, says in her protection order petition that it was during her husband’s first campaign run that she became aware he was having an affair with the woman who was handling his social media activity.

The woman, Lisa Rector Thomas, now is running for Richland City Council. She is trying to unseat Councilman Phillip Lemley in November’s general election.

Thomas could not be reached by phone or email Monday about the allegations.

Monica and Jerry Hatcher have been married since August 2011, according to the divorce filing in Benton County Superior Court.

Monica Hatcher did not seek a protection or restraining order as part of the divorce.

She is represented by lawyer Pat Chvatal, while Jerry Hatcher hired attorney Mason Pickett.

The Hatchers have no children together.

In the protection order petition, Monica Hatcher mentions a recent investigation started against her husband, but does not say what agency is investigating him or for what.

She said she was asked to provide a statement about the events of Dec. 13, 2017, as part of that investigation.

Since being asked for a statement, the wife wrote in her petition, Jerry Hatcher has “become incredibly agitated and his anger that has been directed towards me is becoming increasingly scary and unpredictable.”

Monica Hatcher says it was that day in December 2017 that she went to her husband with “months of phone and text records” about his alleged affair with Thomas.

She says she had confronted him numerous times throughout the year, but didn’t go to him with the purported evidence until shortly after his campaign ended.

“This resulted in Jerry physically assaulting me by putting both hands around my throat, backing me up multiple feet and forcing me backwards over our bedroom dresser, while continuing to choke me,” she wrote in the petition.

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The Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick

After he let go of her, Monica Hatcher said she told her husband to never put his hands on her again and that he could have broken her neck.

She said her husband replied, “If I wanted to hurt you, you’d be dead right now!”

The petition includes nine pictures that Monica Hatcher states are her injuries from that alleged assault.

Special prosecutor appointed

Prosecutor Andy Miller said he received information within the last couple of weeks about the allegation against the sheriff, and he had a mandatory duty under state law to report the possible domestic violence since it involved a sworn employee of a county agency.

He contacted Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste, who assigned it to detectives from outside the Tri-Cities.

“During the investigation it became clear to me that at some point a special prosecutor would be needed on the case because I would just be too close to the case,” said Miller.

So, out of an appearance of fairness and because of his connections to Hatcher as a county law-and-justice colleague, Miller appointed the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office.

That office has taken over working with the state patrol and will receive the completed report to decide if any criminal charges are warranted, Miller said.

Divorce filing

Monica Hatcher said she and her husband started living separately on Sept. 8. Her divorce filing came 10 days later.

Since then, Jerry Hatcher has showed up at her home and work unannounced and “has continued to manipulate me into performing anything that he believes will remove his accountability of his behavior,” Monica Hatcher wrote.

“His emotional abuse has been an ongoing issue and has caused me years of intimidation,” she continued. “Jerry has always made me feel that he was above the law. Until recently, I have been convinced that he was untouchable by law and the only person that could arrest him is the coroner.”

She went on to say that her involvement in the current investigation against her husband has led to his escalated behavior.

She alleges her husband has encouraged her to make false statements to protect him from losing his job and prevent possible criminal charges.

The petition mentions an Oct. 3 incident in which Monica Hatcher says she was forced to send a false statement to a prosecutor. She said her husband “stood over me while I cried.”

“Many times I stated that none of this is true and he was making me lie and discredit my integrity, my character all of your personal gain,” she wrote. “I felt that I did not have a choice and upon agreeing and finishing the document, I was then able to leave his home.”

She said Jerry Hatcher followed that up with multiple text messages and phone calls to her, ensuring that the document had in fact been sent.

“I feel Jerry’s behavior is continuing to escalate and I am unsure of what his actions will be to stop this investigation,” Monica Hatcher states.

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.
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