Northwest News

Special prosecutor charges Benton County sheriff with 2 crimes, including choking his wife

Update: Benton sheriff’s unions want boss to resign. He’s staying, calling his charges ‘politically motivated’

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The Benton County sheriff was charged Wednesday with one felony and one gross misdemeanor stemming from allegations recently made by his wife in a protection order.

Sheriff Jerry Hatcher is accused of tampering with a witness and fourth-degree assault, both with domestic violence allegations.

A summons has been issued for Hatcher to appear in court. He’s set to enter a plea to the charges on Oct. 23.

Hatcher, reached Wednesday afternoon on his cellphone, said he was not aware of the charges.

He told the Tri-City Herald, before the cell lost connection, that he has hired an attorney and cannot comment at this time.

His wife, Monica Hatcher, filed a temporary protection order last Friday stating that her husband strangled her and made a threat during a fight about an extramarital affair in December 2017.

She also alleged that last week, Jerry Hatcher encouraged her to make false statements to protect him from losing his job and prevent possible criminal charges.

Her petition was added to the couple’s divorce case, which was originally filed Sept. 18.

Jerry Hatcher, 56, was ordered to surrender all guns, dangerous weapons and concealed pistol permits as part of that order.

He told the Herald on Monday that he obeyed the order and surrendered his weapons to Kennewick police. He said divorces can be ugly and maintained he is being falsely accused and his wife’s allegations were “inflammatory and damaging.”

Remain in office

He vowed to continue serving as the county sheriff while dealing with the divorce proceedings.

It is not yet clear if that will change now that he is charged. An elected official can remain in office while fighting criminal allegations.

Hatcher
Jerry Hatcher

However, under state law, a sheriff must have peace officer certification.

He can’t lose the certification until he is convicted, terminated or resigns, according to Tisha Jones, a certification manager with the Criminal Justice Training Commission. If one of those happens, the commission investigates and the findings are presented to a hearing board.

Jerry Hatcher would get to defend himself at that hearing, she said.

“We’re not even close to that,” Jones told the Herald. “He’s an elected official, so until we have some resolution we don’t have a path forward.”

A hearing on Monica Hatcher’s request for a permanent protection order and Jerry Hatcher’s ability to carry guns is scheduled for Oct. 15.

Criminal charges

The criminal charges were filed Wednesday in Benton County Superior Court by G. Mark Cipolla, a deputy prosecutor in Spokane County.

The investigation was handled by Washington State Patrol detectives from outside the Tri-Cities.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller said earlier this week that during the investigation it became clear a special prosecutor was needed because he “would just be too close to the case.”

He then contacted his Spokane County counterparts and appointed that office to decide if criminal charges were warranted and handle any potential prosecution.

According to WSP Detective Sgt. Daniel G. Richmond in a four-page probable-cause affidavit, Miller contacted state patrol Chief John R. Batiste the same day as the divorce filing about Monica Hatcher’s domestic violence allegations.

Monica Hatcher went to Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin, who also is a retired Richland police officer, on Sept. 16.

Delvin relayed it to Miller, then both men spoke with Monica Hatcher for about an hour on Sept. 18, the affidavit states.

The Hatchers have been married since August 2011. They have no children together.

Monica Hatcher told the prosecutor and county commissioner that she became aware during her husband’s first campaign run in 2017 that he was having an affair with the woman who was handling his social media activity.

She wrote in her protection order petition that she confronted her husband numerous times throughout the year. However, it wasn’t until after he was elected that she disclosed to him on Dec. 13, 2017, that she had screenshots from Facebook and text messages between Jerry Hatcher and Lisa Rector Thomas.

Thomas is currently running for Richland City Council against incumbent Councilman Phillip Lemley.

Thomas did not respond to previous requests by the Herald for a comment.

However, Wednesday afternoon her attorney issued a statement that said she would “not comment on someone else’s divorce.”

“I do not condone domestic violence. I have great compassion for anyone else who has, or is, going through this, and we should all work together to eliminate it,” said the statement.

Domestic violence allegation

Monica Hatcher said her husband “grabbed her by the neck and bent her over a piece of furniture,” Richmond said in the affidavit. She shared that she had pictures of her bruises, taken by her assistant at work the following two mornings after the alleged assault.

The wife also wrote in her petition that when she told her husband he could have broken her neck, he replied, “If i wanted to hurt you, you’d be dead right now!”

There have been no similar incidents between the couple in the past 22 months, the affidavit says.

Monica Hatcher did not seek a protection or restraining order as part of the initial divorce filing. She confirmed for Richmond in the early days that she felt safe and wasn’t making any requests for a no-contact order.

It was only after state patrol investigators began asking about the 2017 domestic violence allegation, that she says her husband’s behavior became erratic and he began pressuring her to recant.

Monica Hatcher first met with state patrol investigators for a recorded interview on Sept. 24.

She recalled the couple fighting in the spring or summer of 2015 and when she told her husband to “f--- off,” he “grabbed her around the neck with his hand and pushed her backwards onto a bench seat in their master bathroom,” the affidavit says.

Monica Hatcher said there were no apparent marks or injuries during that confrontation.

Investigators said it appears to be old enough that it falls outside of the statute of limitations for criminal charges.

She then discussed the December 2017 fight over her husband’s infidelity. She said she was surprised and scared by her husband’s alleged actions that day at their home.

Investigators spoke with Monica Hatcher’s assistant at the office, who confirmed taking photographs of visible bruising on the her neck on Dec. 14, and again on Dec. 15, 2017. She forwarded those pictures to the detectives.

Jerry Hatcher was interviewed by the state patrol on Oct. 2.

He denied ever assaulting his wife and, when shown two pictures of the alleged injuries, said he only saw marks that might be shadows or makeup, Richmond wrote in the probable-cause affidavit.

When shown a sketch of the couple’s bedroom where his wife said she was strangled and pushed against a bedroom dresser, Jerry Hatcher “seemed to remember the incident, however he maintained that no assault had occurred. He recalled just walking past her and leaving the room.”

Richmond said Hatcher made several statements during the interview to cast doubt on his wife. He relayed that she had vivid dreams and took a large amount of medications, including opiates, the document states.

Monica Hatcher was scheduled for a follow-up meeting on Oct. 3 but never showed. Detectives tried to reach her by phone several times, but repeatedly got her voicemail.

Five hours later, Richmond wrote that he got a call from a distraught Monica Hatcher, who said she had missed the meeting because she was with her husband, and he’d been “directing her to write a letter recanting her previous allegations.”

She said her husband had since left on an out-of-town trip for the weekend, but continued to call her to make sure she’d sent the email.

Tampering investigation

Richmond conferred with Prosecutor Miller, who reportedly said the best course of action was for Monica Hatcher to send the email to calm and deescalate the situation with her husband.

The email was received at 9:26 p.m. Oct. 3, and “effectively recanted her previous testimony,” Richmond said. He noted that “many of the points made in the email were similar in nature to the allegations that Gerald Hatcher had made during his interview.”

Then, last Friday morning, two detectives and a trooper met with Monica Hatcher again.

One detective determined there were four separate instances in which Jerry Hatcher tampered with witnesses, the affidavit states.

On Oct. 1, after Richmond scheduled an interview with the sheriff for the following day, Jerry Hatcher called his wife to say he had been contacted by investigators and to adamantly deny the alleged incident.

During that call, Jerry Hatcher suddenly became quiet and, believing the call was being recorded, asked to meet with her in-person. He then talked to his wife in the driveway of their house and gave her specific instructions on how to recant her statement, including who to talk with in the courthouse, according to the probable-cause affidavit.

On Oct. 3, Monica Hatcher was walking out the front door of her office when her husband called and asked her to go to his house with him. They drove separately.

At the house, he allegedly instructed his wife to type an email on her laptop to Richmond and Miller. He told her what to write from a document he had already typed onto his cellphone, the affidavit says.

He then allegedly watched over her shoulder as Monica Hatcher revised the email to be written in her own voice and style.

Monica Hatcher told detectives she was crying and emotionally distraught when this was happening, and her husband was first angry, then smiling and happy because she was following his directions. She said she did not feel free to leave at the time.

She also claimed that her husband told her state patrol investigators are wrong and are trying to manipulate her, and said she is to have no further contact with them.

She did not send the email.

That evening, Jerry Hatcher called his wife and asked for proof that the email was sent. He also listed off potential witnesses, including relatives and some or her co-workers, and said she needed to give all of them instructions not to cooperate with detectives, the affidavit states.

Monica Hatcher shared with detectives that on Oct. 4, her husband again called and directed her to tell two relatives to either stay out of the investigation or say they couldn’t recall when questioned about the couple’s relationship, according to the affidavit.

Staff writer Cameron Probert contributed to this report.

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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