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Prisoner Education Guide

Missouri Sheriff Who Vowed to Clean Up Crime Faces Criminal Charges, Lawsuits

by R. Bailey

In March 2018, a federal grand jury returned an 11-count indictment against Mississippi County, Missouri Sheriff Cory Hutcheson. Hutcheson, 34, already faced robbery charges as well as a wrongful death suit filed by the mother of a prisoner who died at the county lockup.

At the request of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a judge revoked Hutcheson’s peace officer license in May 2017 – just over a year after he was elected sheriff, vowing to clean up crime in the southeastern county of 14,000 people. Prior to taking office, Hutcheson served as a sheriff’s deputy overseeing the local jail.

The federal indictments, all for identity theft, stemmed from a 2014 incident in which Hutcheson forged documents so he could illegally “ping” the cell phones of a judge, five state troopers and the then-sheriff, in order to track their whereabouts. By the time he was arrested, Sheriff Hutcheson was also wanted for state charges, including first-degree robbery and assault.

Those charges resulted from a March 2017 incident at Joyce’s Beauty Shop in East Prairie, where Hutcheson’s sister-in-law had worked until she left to open her own salon. The shop owner demanded the return of appointment calendars and other proprietary documents before releasing a final paycheck. Hutcheson visited the business in uniform to forcibly take the check, in the process handcuffing the shop owner’s sister, 77-year-old Bonnie Woods, and threatening to charge her with kidnapping and assault. Woods suffered a heart attack the same day.

At a hearing in June 2017, Cape Girardeau County Circuit Court Judge Gary Kamp dropped the assault charge against Hutcheson in connection with Woods’ injury at the beauty salon. The sheriff was freed on bail.

While awaiting trial on the robbery charge, Hutcheson was named in a wrongful death suit filed by the mother of Somer Nunnally, a 21-year-old mother of two who died in custody at the county jail in May 2015. At the time, guards knew that Nunnally was under the influence of drugs and needed medical care. They had taken her to a hospital to obtain blood samples for evidence, but failed to get medical assistance for her.

Jail surveillance video showed that Nunnally could not sit up straight when she was booked. Her pleas for help were ignored. She urinated on herself, and that too was ignored. Jailers laughed at her as she lay passed out near the toilet in her cell; eleven hours after she was taken into custody, she was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead. The lawsuit over her death settled for $270,000 in late June 2018. See: K.D.A. v. Mississippi County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 1:17-cv-00068-JAR.

Prior to the Nunnally lawsuit, Sheriff Hutcheson and Mississippi County were named in a wrongful death suit filed in April 2016 by the state chapter of the ACLU on behalf of a female prisoner, Tara Rhodes, who was shackled while pregnant. When transferred to the state women’s prison, her child was stillborn. That case settled in May 2016 under undisclosed terms.

On November 5, 2018, Hutcheson and the county were again sued, this time by the family of Tory Sanders. The mentally ill 28-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee had not been arrested. Rather, he went to the county jail in May 2017 seeking help after taking a wrong turn and getting lost.

A mental health counselor determined that Sanders was suffering an “acute psychiatric crisis,” and he was placed on a 96-hour hold at the jail. There, surveillance video recorded deputies tasering and pepper-spraying him through the cell bars. Sheriff Hutcheson – whose peace officer license had already been revoked – led a group of deputies and police officers into the cell to tackle Sanders, in what one officer later called a “dogpile.”

That same officer testified that he recognized Sanders was in distress, and thrice advised Hutcheson and jail administrator Sally Yanez to get off the young man’s limp body. By the time they finally did so, Sanders was no longer breathing. For over 10 minutes, no one attempted CPR. He was subsequently pronounced dead. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.22].

Afterward, the lawsuit alleges, Hutcheson gave Yanez a “burner” cell phone so they could exchange untraceable text messages, in which they apparently coordinated their stories in an effort to avoid blame for the incident. Sanders’ mother, Quinta Sanders, is seeking $20 million in damages for civil rights violations and her son’s false imprisonment and wrongful death. See: Sanders v. Mississippi County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 1:18-cv-00269-ACL. 

Sources: www.columbiatribune.com, www.komu.com, www.riverfronttimes.com, www.wpsdlocal6.com

 

Related legal cases

Sanders v. Mississippi County

K.D.A. v. Mississippi County


 

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