The four unions representing Benton County Sheriff’s Office employees called for their embattled leader to immediately resign in the wake of criminal charges.
The “united message” from the bargaining groups came one day after Sheriff Jerry Hatcher was charged with felony witness tampering and fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.
Both charges, filed in Benton County Superior Court, include domestic violence allegations because they involve his estranged wife.
“We ... believe no one is above the law and that includes Sheriff Hatcher,” the unions wrote in the letter. “In light of everything, we ask that Jerry Hatcher immediately resign and not drag the employees, the reputation of this office or our community through his court process.”
The call for his resignation was quickly followed by rumors that the sheriff of 2 1/2 years had stepped down.
Richland lawyer Scott Johnson, who’s been hired to handle Hatcher’s criminal case, told the Tri-City Herald that his client has taken a few days off and is out of the area.
But he emphasized that Hatcher is not stepping down.
‘Excellent law enforcement service’
Hatcher, 56, has asked his command staff to handle day-to-day operations while he is away, which typically is what happens when the sheriff is not in the office, said Johnson.
“He intends to continue on with his duties as sheriff,” the attorney said.
Some union representatives said they were left with the impression Hatcher was taking a leave of absence after reading a letter the sheriff distributed Thursday to his employees.
It opened saying that in light of the current situation, he feels it is necessary “to step away form the daily operations of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office until this situation is resolved.”
“I am not stepping down from my position as sheriff but am only stepping away to ensure the sheriff’s office can perform with as little disruption as possible,” Hatcher wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to the Herald.
“I have an excellent department and command staff fully capable of temporarily running the sheriff’s office and ensuring we continue to deliver the excellent law enforcement service the citizens of Benton County deserve.”
Hatcher thanked the hard-working employees in his office “for their continued commitment to serving and protecting our community and the leadership they’re showing during this difficult time.”
The sheriff said he will continue to meet his statutory obligations for his elected position, but for now has placed Commander Tom Croskrey in charge of the daily operations, according to the letter. Hatcher previously eliminated the undersheriff position that he once held.
Also Thursday, Hatcher released through his attorney a lengthy statement blasting the criminal investigation and prosecution as “politically motivated” and accused other public officials of pressuring his wife.”
“Divorce proceedings can be emotional and people can make emotional decisions. While Sheriff Hatcher adamantly denies these false accusations, he does not blame his wife for the current situation and stands by his family,” said the statement issued by Johnson. “Sheriff Hatcher does blame the Benton County officials (who) would exploit Mrs. Hatcher for their own gains.”
Domestic violence charges
Monica Hatcher filed for divorce on Sept. 18. She initially did not seek a protection or restraining order as part of that action.
Then on Oct. 4, she filed for a temporary protection order saying her husband grabbed her around the neck and left bruises during a December 2017 fight.
Hatcher’s wife of eight years claims that after she recently came forward with the domestic violence allegation, her husband tried to get her to recant statements she’s made to investigators.
On Monday, Hatcher surrendered all guns and concealed pistol permits to Kennewick police as part of the protection order in his separate divorce filing.
A sheriff can continue to serve even if he cannot carry a pistol.
A hearing is scheduled Oct. 15 in the divorce case to address Monica Hatcher’s request for a permanent protection order and Jerry Hatcher’s ability to carry guns.
Monica Hatcher is represented by Pat Chvatal of Richland, and Jerry Hatcher hired Mason Pickett of Kennewick for the family law case.
Defense team investigating
Johnson, who’s on the criminal case, said Jerry Hatcher’s legal team has begun their own investigation to aggressively defend the sheriff.
“Charges were hastily filed without even the semblance of a full and fair investigation by the Washington State Patrol,” Johnson said. “Witnesses have not been interviewed. Vital evidence has not been collected.”
The defense team is collecting evidence the state patrol failed to secure, and will be seeking a preservation order to ensure that forensic evidence that may be in the possession of county officials is not destroyed, he said.
According to court documents filed in the criminal case, Monica Hatcher first went to Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin about the alleged domestic abuse.
Delvin, a retired Richland police officer, contacted Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller and the two men sat down with her for an hour to hear her story. That was the same day she filed divorce paperwork.
Miller then reached out to WSP Chief John R. Batiste, who assigned detectives from outside the Tri-Cities to investigate her allegations.
Miller told the Herald earlier this week that it soon became clear a special independent prosecutor should review the case. He appointed the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office to review the investigative report, decide if criminal charges were warranted and handle any potential prosecution.
G. Mark Cipolla, a Spokane County deputy prosecutor, filed the two charges on Wednesday.
Wife was pressured
Johnson said even after Monica Hatcher pursued the divorce, his client continued to speak with and see his wife as the two tried to repair their relationship. If nothing else, the couple wanted their divorce to be amicable, he said.
But then other county elected officials, who are not members of law enforcement or investigators, involved themselves in the divorce case, said the attorney.
While the statement appears to be referring to Delvin and Miller, they are not named in the statement.
“Mrs. Hatcher drafted an email making it clear that the 2-year-old allegation was not true and that she had been pressured by Benton County officials to make the allegation,” the statement said. “Mrs. Hatcher also continued to communicate with Sheriff Hatcher during this period of time, asking his advice on how to deal with what the officials had done.”
Johnson alleges Delvin and Miller recused themselves only after pressuring Monica Hatcher to make a report that she knew was false.
“If there was a conflict, that conflict existed the minute they involved themselves in the matter,” he wrote. “The conflict existed when they held an hour-long meeting with Mrs. Hatcher. The conflict existed throughout the time they pressured her.”
“Sheriff Hatcher will rely on his legal team to handle these false allegations,” he continues, “while he continues to concentrate on serving the citizens of Benton County who elected him and have trusted him for over 30 years.”
Attached to the public statement was a copy of the four-page email that Monica Hatcher reportedly sent to Miller and WSP Detective Sgt. Daniel G. Richmond on Oct. 3.
Monica Hatcher reported that her husband forced her to write the email from a document he had already typed on his cellphone. She told investigators he watched over her shoulder to make sure she wrote it.
That email is part of the basis for the witness tampering charge.
In the email — sent the night before she filed for the protection order — Monica Hatcher said she is “confused about quite a lot of things,” is a complete mess mentally and emotionally, and cannot in good faith swear to what happened two years ago.
“Jerry and I are getting a divorce over him having an affair, and I have every reason to be angry with him,” the email said. “That being said, I should not have let you and Jerome play on my emotions as you are both fully aware of the difficult things I am going through.”
‘Bringing discredit to this office’
The unions that represent Hatcher’s employees say the recent information and events regarding their boss’ criminal charges are “very disturbing.”
“We would like our community to know we are as concerned as you with the allegations he is accused of,” the letter said.
“The allegations are bringing discredit to this office and they do not reflect what we stand for. They are the actions of one person and, if they are true, they will be his burden and his shame to carry.”
Thursday’s letter came from Teamsters Locals 839 and 760, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Benton County Deputies Guild.
The four unions cover: clerical staff; corrections officers, corporals, sergeants and lieutenants; and patrol deputies, corporals, sergeants and lieutenants.
The employees said regardless of Hatcher’s recent news, their united message for the community is, “We are committed to you and will continue serving you with the same dedication and commitment to your safety.”
“The public trust we have worked so hard to earn and hold so dearly has now been put to doubt,” the letter continues. “We ask that you place that doubt where it belongs and allow us, the employees, a chance to continue earning and building your trust.”
The letter concluded that everyone should have the opportunity to stand trial, and that includes Hatcher.
He currently is scheduled to make his first appearance on the criminal charges and enter a plea Oct. 23.