Missouri sheriff involved in inmate death removed from job

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Missouri sheriff who was arrested last month on assault and other charges has been suspended from office after he was involved in a jail altercation last week in which an inmate died, the state's top prosecutor said.

Attorney General Josh Hawley said in a news release Wednesday that a Mississippi County judge granted a request Tuesday night to remove Cory Hutcheson from his position as the sheriff of the rural county of about 14,000 residents that's about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of St. Louis. He said the order will prevent Hutcheson from "interfering" in the investigation of the inmate's death Friday and from "any further abuse of his office." He has 10 days to respond to the order revoking his authority to serve as sheriff.

Hawley said at a news conference later Wednesday that he believes that Hutcheson "directed the altercation" at the county jail that preceded the death of 28-year-old Tory Sanders. Hutcheson's sheriff's license was suspended after his April arrest, which would have prevented him from acting as sheriff after he was released from jail. But the terms of the suspension still allowed him access to law enforcement facilities such as the jai, he said.

Hawley said it is unclear what Hutcheson was doing at the jail prior to the altercation and why he was directing jail personnel. He said group of law enforcement officers entered Sanders' cell on Friday night in an attempt to "calm" Sanders. At about 7 p.m. Hutcheson appeared, apparently directing jail personnel, and entered the cell. After an altercation, Sanders was transported to a nearby hospital and later pronounced dead. Further details of the altercations remain "sketchy," Hawley said.

Coroner Terry Parker told the Riverfront Times that Sanders had become "agitated and uncooperative" and that he collapsed while jail staff were trying to restrain him. He said an autopsy showed no signs of foul play or trauma. Toxicology results are pending.

Hutcheson, 33, told the newspaper in an email that Sanders hurt six officers in the confrontation.

The county prosecutor and the sheriff's office didn't reply to requests for comment.

The Missouri Attorney General's Office has alerted the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI for a potential civil rights investigation, Hawley said.

Hutcheson has pleaded not guilty in the cases against him. His lawyer, Scott Rosenblum, said Wednesday that Hutcheson "has always performed his job in a manner in which he should."

Hutcheson was elected sheriff in November and took office in January. He worked most of the previous 11 years in the sheriff's department as a jail administrator and deputy.

Hutcheson was arrested last month on 18 criminal counts, including three stemming from an incident in which he allegedly handcuffed Bonnie Woods, a 77-year-old colleague of his sister-in-law, so hard that her wrist bled because Woods wouldn't give him his sister-in-law's paycheck. The beauty shop's owner had accused the sister-in-law of taking property and was holding the check until it was returned, Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper T.S. Craig wrote in the probable cause statement.

After leaving with the check and removing the handcuffs, Hutcheson sought assault and kidnapping charges against Woods, alleging that Woods held his sister-in-law against her will when his sister-in-law tried to pick up her final paycheck. Witnesses said the sister-in-law was neither assaulted nor kidnapped, Craig wrote. Woods, meanwhile, was hospitalized for three days after her confrontation with Hutcheson. She had suffered a nonfatal heart attack.

The other 15 counts — seven each of forgery and tampering with computer data, and one count of notary misconduct — accuse Hutcheson of crimes in 2014, when he was a deputy. The patrol said Hutcheson used a system that provides the location of cellphones in near real time without legal approval. He also was accused of using the system to examine information about the man who was then sheriff, a judge and five patrol officials. The probable cause statement didn't suggest a motive.

Hawley said his office sought to have Hutcheson held without bond and to deny him access to law enforcement offices, but the judge denied both requests and released him on bail.

In addition to the criminal charges against Hutcheson, he and the sheriff's office are facing a lawsuit over the May 2015 overdose death of a 21-year-old inmate when Hutcheson was the administrator of the county jail. The wrongful death lawsuit, filed on behalf of Somer Nunnally's two children, alleges that surveillance video shows that a jailer laughed at her several times the night she spent in jail and that she cried out for medical help an hour before she died. She had been arrested after failing a sobriety test during a traffic stop.