Motion denied: judge rules AG's order to strip Mississippi Co. sheriff of his duties stands

Motion denied: judge rules AG's order to strip Mississippi Co. sheriff of his duties stands
Published: May. 9, 2017 at 3:48 PM CDT|Updated: May. 26, 2017 at 11:49 AM CDT
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Sheriff Cory Hutcheson has been suspended from his duties. (Source: KFVS)
Sheriff Cory Hutcheson has been suspended from his duties. (Source: KFVS)
MO Attorney General Josh Hawley held a press conference on Thursday on the investigation into...
MO Attorney General Josh Hawley held a press conference on Thursday on the investigation into the death at the Mississippi County Jail. (Source: KFVS)
Tory Sanders died at the jail in an incident that injured six law enforcement officers....
Tory Sanders died at the jail in an incident that injured six law enforcement officers. (Source: WKRN)

MISSISSIPPI COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - A judge has denied a motion filed by Cory Hutcheson to dismiss an order by the Missouri Attorney General to strip him of his duties as Mississippi County Sheriff.

During a hearing on Friday, May 26, Hutcheson's attorney and a representative from the Attorney General's office presented their arguments to Judge William L. Syler.

Court documents show that Hutcheson denies the majority of the allegations against him and asked that the matter be dismissed.

His attorney filed a motion for a hearing to have the Quo Warranto dismissed.

Judge Syler denied the motion, but said his decision was not final. He called attorneys for both sides to his office to pick another date for another hearing.

Hutcheson, who is currently suspended from his duties, is facing 18 criminal charges.

On Tuesday, May 16, Attorney General Josh Hawley asked the Circuit Court of Mississippi County, Missouri to revoke Cory Hutcheson's bond in the pending criminal case against him. Court documents show that Hawley believes Hutcheson's actions "demonstrate that he is a danger to the community."

A criminal motion hearing has been set for June 22 in Mississippi County. That's when the motion to revoke bond will be decided.

Hawley asked that Hutcheson be jailed or barred from interfering in the attorney general's investigation into the death of Tory Sanders at the Mississippi County Jail.

"Our investigation into the events of May 5 and the death of Tory Sanders is ongoing," Hawley said. "The facts more than establish that Cory Hutcheson has violated the terms of his bail and is a danger to the community. Three people have died at the Mississippi County Jail on his watch. The court should act now, by revoking his bail, to prevent further tragedy and any interference in our investigation."

According to a spokesperson for Hawley's office, the three deaths referenced are Tory Sanders (May 5, 2017), Somer Nunnally (May 3, 2015), and the unborn baby of Tara Rhodes (Dec. 23, 2014).

When reached by phone on May 17, Hutcheson's attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said, "There's no basis for the revocation of bond. We will oppose it in court. There's nothing in the record to revoke Cory's bond."

Hawley asked that if the court declines to revoke Hutcheson's bond, he should be placed on GPS monitoring. Hawley also asked that he not be allowed to have contact with any witnesses or investigators in the criminal cases, that he be prohibited from contacting any employee of the Mississippi Couty Sheriff's Department, and that he be prohibited from engaging in any law enforcement activities.

In an exclusive interview with Hawley, he said Cory Hutcheson first ended up on their radar on April 5 when his office brought 18 criminal charges against Hutcheson. 10 of those charges are felonies.

"These are very serious charges," Hawley said. "All 18 counts are very serious charges, not just the illegal surveillance, but also the robbery and forgery and that's why we asked the judge to deny bond to Hutcheson, or if the judge did grant bond, to condition that he not get into any law enforcement activity or near the jail; and failure to do so, I'm afraid, is one of the contributing factors to the events on May 5."

Hawley said he believes Hutcheson should have been behind bars as of April 5.

"I have no idea why he was at the jail on May 5, he certainly shouldn't have been directing law enforcement officers, after all his license was suspended to engage in any law enforcement activity and this is the subject of our new investigation that is very active," he said.

Hawley held a press conference Thursday, May 11 to provide an update on the investigation into Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson and his involvement in the death of the inmate on May 5.

Investigation into Tory Sanders' death

Hawley told reporters that his office is handling the investigation into Sanders' death in conjunction with Missouri State Highway Patrol, after having jurisdiction of the investigation transferred over to his department.

During the press conference, Hawley first promised to the family of Tory Sanders as well as the people of Missouri: "My office will conduct a full, independent and vigorous investigation into the events that happened at the Mississippi County jail," said Hawley. "We will get to the bottom of what happened there and we will see that justice is done."

Hawley provided the following as a timeline of the events concerning Sanders' death:

Sanders left Nashville, Tenn. sometime on May 4. Later that day, his car ran out of gas near Marston, Mo. He apparently hitched a ride with a driver headed to Sikeston. He went to Walmart, with the intent to receive a wire transfer of money from his brother. Thursday evening, Sanders went to Charleston.

Thursday night, Sanders approached officers in Charleston at a convenience store for an unknown reason. Hawley said it appeared that Sanders was "confused" as to where he was.

At 11 a.m. Friday, May 5, Sanders approached Charleston police at another convenience store, telling police that he was in distress of some sort and asked to see a counselor. He also told police that there was an arrest warrant out for him related to an altercation he had been in before leaving Nashville, involving the mother of his children.

Charleston police took Sanders to the Mississippi County jail where they checked the status of his warrant and asked that a mental health professional came to speak with him.

After checking the status of the warrant, police learned that the warrant was not extraditable meaning that law enforcement agents in other states were not compelled to send Sanders back to Tennessee.

At around noon, a mental health professional arrived to speak with Sanders. He was in a holding cell at the jail. The mental health professional concluded after speaking with Sanders that he didn't need to be committed, and recommended that he be released.

For an unknown reason, Sanders decided not to leave the holding cell at the jail. Early reports say he started to become agitated. The deputy sheriff then allowed Sanders to use his personal cell phone to call his mother at around 3:45 p.m.

Hawley says he was led to believe Sanders made a series of phone calls during this time, to his family, between 4 and 4:30 p.m. He also points out that at around 4 p.m., the mental health professional was asked by officials to come back to the jail and examine Sanders a second time. This time, the professional recommended that Sanders be given a 96-hour mental health "hold".

Sometime before 6 p.m., jail staff decided to move Sanders to a different holding cell. Sanders was apparently unwilling to move, which Hawley said led to a series of exchanges and altercations between 6 and 6:45 p.m.

Shortly after 6 p.m., jail staff summoned Charleston police officers who used pepper spray on Sanders to subdue him and try to move him to another holding cell. Over the course of the day, Hawley believes jail personnel used tasers on Sanders at least 3 times.

At approximately 7 p.m., Hawley says Sheriff Cory Hutcheson arrived at the jail, where he "organized" jail personnel, as well as Charleston police, in an attempt to force themselves into Sanders' holding cell (which Hawley points out is the original cell he was placed in; he had never been moved to a new holding cell).

At around 7:15 p.m., Hutcheson reportedly led the group into Sanders' cell. Emergency personnel were summoned to the jail about 10 minutes later, arriving a little after 7:30 p.m. Sanders was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Hawley says his office is awaiting a final toxicology report, as well as an autopsy, for Sanders.

Sheriff suspended from duties

According to the Mississippi County Clerk's Office, Cory Hutcheson was first hired at the sheriff's office on July 6, 2008.

According to the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department, he became jail administrator on February 6, 2014.

Hutcheson was elected as sheriff in November 2016 and took office on January 1, 2017.

He was suspended from his duties and ordered to turn in his service weapon on May 10. He can no longer conduct any law enforcement business.

Judge William Syler signed the emergency order after Attorney General Josh Hawley requested Hutcheson be removed from office on Tuesday, May 9.

According to court documents, as a result of what's known as a 'preliminary order in quo warranto' Hutcheson cannot enter the offices of the sheriff's department or conduct any business with the office.

Mississippi County Coroner Terry Parker will now serve as the sheriff.

Mississippi County Prosecutor Darren Cann said with all the accusations against Hutcheson and his removal as sheriff, all of his cases involving Hutcheson are in jeopardy.

"I'm going to have to review every single one of them. Some of them – it's unavoidable – they will probably have to be dismissed, but we're reviewing those case by case," Cann said.

The Attorney General said he has notified both the Department of Justice and the FBI about the ongoing investigation. Sanders is black and Hawley said that the Department of Justice will investigate whether or not there was any sort of civil rights violation.

A representative from the Sanders family released a statement:

"We want answers, we won't stop until we get answers. We want to find out what happened to my brother. We want justice"

Scott Rosenblum, Hutcheson's attorney, also issued a statement on behalf of his client, saying "like any citizen, Cory is presumed innocent. I believe the Attorney General's action is terribly premature and is unfounded. I don't think it's advisable to try cases in the press. Cory and I look forward to trying his case in court and feel confident he will be vindicated. "

On Hawley's investigation of the incident at the jail, Rosenblum said, "we urge him to complete a thorough investigation and he will find no criminal conduct by Cory Hutcheson or his deputies."

When asked if Hutcheson will fight Hawley's order to have him permanently stripped of his law enforcement duties, Rosenblum said yes.

In a text message, Hutcheson said, "I wish you had asked Hawley how the 6 officers hospitalized that night are doing...We're [sic] they able to reattach the jailers [sic] thumb? How'd the other jailers [sic] shoulder surgery go?"

Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Drew Juden also issued a statement on the jail death investigation:

"I offer my condolences to the family of Tory Sanders. My heart goes out for their loss and the pain they are enduring right now. I cannot ease their pain but I can assure them that there will be a complete and impartial investigation of the circumstances of Mr. Sanders' death.

"I have spent the past four decades in law enforcement in this state. When I took my job as department of public safety director four months ago, one of my top priorities was raising the professionalism of law enforcement. With that comes the responsibility of identifying those who have no business in the profession and taking action. That's why we acted immediately following the April criminal charges filed against Cory Hutcheson.

"I cannot promise the outcome of our investigation, but promise we will do everything in our power to serve the justice in this case, and every case."

Civil lawsuits

Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson also faces two federal civil lawsuits involving the same allegations that led the state to charge him with several crimes back in March. Those lawsuits were filed on Tuesday, May 9.

According to Cape Girardeau attorney Curt Poore, the cases filed in federal court seek injunctive relief and monetary damages against Hutcheson, accusing him of violating the civil rights of seven people in total.

The first case lists the plaintiffs as five members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

It alleges Hutcheson used a company called Securus Technologies to "ping" the cell phones of all five plaintiffs on specific dates in 2014.

According to the documents, Hutcheson "is believed to have unlawfully 'pinged' the cell phones of Plaintiffs on other occasions."

Securus is a company that provides call management and other services to law enforcement agencies.  In order to "ping" a phone, the document reads, "a law enforcement officer provides Securus with an individual's cell phone number and other information."

It also reads "a law enforcement agency may not 'ping' an individual's cell phone through a company like Securus without obtaining a warrant or by providing other verified and authorized documentation."

In all the instances listed involving members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the suit alleges Hutcheson did not have a warrant.

According to the documents, Hutcheson's actions were committed "for the unlawful purpose of spying on Plaintiffs for his own personal gain, constituted an unlawful abuse of power, and otherwise served no lawful purpose."

The second civil suit filed against the Mississippi County Sheriff relates to incidents involving an East Prairie beauty shop owner and her 77-year-old employee in March of this year.

According to the documents in this case, Hutcheson's sister-in-law worked at the beauty shop and when she quit, she "took pages from the shop's appointment book, including names and numbers that she intended to use to procure potential clients."

The sister-in-law, the suit alleges, went to pick up her final paycheck and was told to return the pages.

According to the documents, on March 24, 2017, the sister-in-law called the shop owner and said "Cory is running my errands for me," and stated Hutcheson would be coming to the beauty shop.

Later that same day, the suit alleges Hutcheson arrived at the shop in uniform and asked for the check. The employee then reportedly asked for the appointment book pages back.

That's when, according to the suit, Hutcheson grabbed the woman by the wrist, handcuffed her, and told her he was arresting her for assaulting his sister-in-law and if she did not comply "he would arrest her for assaulting a law enforcement officer."

After allegedly twisting her wrist, causing bleeding and bruising, Hutcheson let her go, grabbed the sister-in-law's check, and left the shop.

The suit details how, following the incident, the employee was taken for medical treatment where it was learned she suffered a heart attack.

According to the documents, "Sheriff Hutcheson then drafted a probable cause statement, naming plaintiffs, in which he swore to the false information that plaintiffs, two elderly women, had assaulted and kidnapped" Hutcheson's 23-year-old sister-in-law.

The suit also accuses Hutcheson of taking to social media to disparage the shop owner and her employee.

Both federal civil suits accuse Hutcheson of violating the plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Hutcheson is set to appear in court on June 20, 2017 on the criminal cases against him.

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