Former Missouri sheriff sentenced to 6 months in fed prison
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A former Missouri sheriff who was accused of actions ranging from fraud to assault to playing a role in an inmate’s death was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison.
Former Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson was originally charged with 28 federal counts but pleaded guilty in November to just two: wire fraud and identity theft. Hutcheson resigned after the guilty plea and is forbidden from working as a law enforcement officer ever again.
Federal prosecutors say that during a three-year period from when Hutcheson was a deputy through the first months of his tenure as sheriff, he uploaded fraudulent documents to a law enforcement database to obtain the location of more than 200 cellphone users. The process known as “pinging” was used to track the whereabouts of a judge, a former sheriff and several others in law enforcement. Hutcheson has never explained his motive.
Hutcheson also was charged with assault, robbery and making a false declaration in state court. It wasn’t immediately clear if those charges would be dropped now that he’s headed to prison. The Missouri attorney general’s office didn’t immediately reply to messages seeking comment.
U.S. District Judge John Ross said during the sentencing hearing that Hutcheson “abused his position and violated the public trust.”
“He did it in a way that erodes confidence in law enforcement, at a time when that is desperately, desperately needed,” Ross said.
Hutcheson, 35, apologized to his victims, the court and his family, many of whom were in the courtroom.
“There’s nothing I can do to take it back,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Federal guidelines would have allowed up to 16 months in prison. In addition to his prison time, Hutcheson will serve four months of home confinement and three years of supervised release.
Investigators painted a picture of a law enforcement officer responsible for far worse behavior than the crimes he admitted to.
Hutcheson was elected in 2016. He ran on pledge of attacking the drug culture that permeated Mississippi County, which sits in the Missouri Bootheel region about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of St. Louis. Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said at the hearing that Hutcheson arrested 88 drug dealers in his first 90 days as sheriff.
But Hutcheson himself was arrested in April 2017, just three months into his term. State charges accused him of entering a beauty shop to pick up a paycheck for his sister-in-law, who had been accused of taking property belonging to the business. The shop owner was holding the check until the property was returned.
Hutcheson approached 77-year-old Bonnie Woods, an employee and a sister of the shop owner, and demanded the paycheck, threatening arrest if she refused, authorities said. When Woods refused, the sheriff allegedly grabbed her left wrist and applied the handcuff with enough force that it bled. He then grabbed the check, removed the handcuff and left.
Woods had a heart attack during the encounter, authorities said. She recovered.
In May 2017, a month after his arrest, Hutcheson was still working as sheriff when inmate Tory Sanders died in the county jail after being subdued by jail staff and Hutcheson. Hutcheson was not criminally charged, but a lawsuit filed by Sanders’ family said he died after Hutcheson and others beat and choked him.
The lawsuit said Hutcheson used his knee to press on the man’s neck and refused to let up, even when another officer urged him to do so.
Rosenblum said during Monday’s hearing that Hutcheson had nothing to do with Sanders’ death. He asked Ross for no jail time, citing Hutcheson’s difficult family situation. He and his wife lost a child at birth last year and she has had three miscarriages since then, and struggles with depression as a result, Rosenblum said.