Rural Missouri County Still Paying the Price for Rogue Sheriff

The fallout of Cory Hutcheson's time as Mississippi County Sheriff isn't over yet. - VIA MISSISSIPI COUNTY SHERIFF'S FACEBOOK
The fallout of Cory Hutcheson's time as Mississippi County Sheriff isn't over yet.

Long after he was forced out of office and sent to federal prison, the bills from ex-Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson's reign keep coming — and they're not cheap.

Attorneys for the county in the Bootheel of Missouri filed a motion on Wednesday in hopes of capping the latest settlement — tied to a wrongful-death suit brought by the family of Tory Sanders — at $2 million.

Sanders died in 2017 in the county jail after Hutcheson and a crew of jailers dogpiled on top of him, kneeling on him at times in a case that drew new attention last summer following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, following the lead of his predecessor Josh Hawley, reviewed the case and declined to file criminal charges against Hutcheson. But the civil lawsuit continues. If a federal judge agrees to the $2 million proposal, the county will likely save some money. The family is seeking $3.5 million in addition to the $500,000 that the city of Charleston (where Hutcheson ran a notorious jail) has already agreed to pay in Sanders' death.

The city and county have paid more than $300,000 to settle Hutcheson-related suits brought in response to the alleged abuse of two other detainees — a woman who died of a fatal overdose while jailers mocked her and, in a separate instance, a pregnant inmate who lost her baby when jail staff refused her pleas for medical treatment.

The city and county don't admit wrongdoing in any of the cases.

See Also: Sheriff Cory Hutcheson Vowed to Clean Up His Rural Missouri County. Now He's the One Facing Prison

Hutcheson started as a sheriff's deputy in 2008 and eventually rose to the jail's administrator. He clashed with the sheriff and was fired or quit, depending on whose version you believe, in 2016. He wasn't gone long. He challenged the sheriff in the election that year and won, taking over as sheriff in January 2017.

Hutcheson was already under investigation by the FBI at the time. He had been illegally tracking the cellphones of various people, including his former boss, state troopers and a judge, according to investigators. He was eventually arrested while in office on charges related to the phone tracking and a separate incident in which he was accused of manhandling and filing false charges against an elderly hairdresser who'd had a dispute with one of the sheriff's relatives.

Facing nearly two dozen criminal charges in state and federal court, he pleaded guilty in 2018 to a count of federal wire fraud in connection with the phone tracing and was sentenced to six months in prison. His legal troubles had already forced him out of the sheriff's office by then, but the fallout from his time with a badge is ongoing.

In 2018, Mississippi County agreed to a $50,000 settlement with Tara Rhodes, who in 2014 begged for five days to be seen by a doctor as she struggled with complications of her pregnancy in the jail. She was eventually transferred across the state to a women's prison, where staff quickly realized something was wrong and sent her for medical care. Doctors found the baby was protruding and stillborn. Hutcheson, who was then the jail administrator, was one of the defendants in the suit.

He was also named in a suit brought by the family of Somer Nunnally, a 21-year-old mother of two who was dangerously high on prescription pills when she was arrested in 2015. She cried and begged for help in the jail, but jailers and cops only laughed at her, the suit alleged. She died on the floor of her cell. Charleston and Mississippi County settled in 2018 for $270,000.

Tory Sanders collapsed during a confrontation with officers in the Mississippi County jail, authorities say. - Image via  WFVF-TV/Sanders Family
Image via WFVF-TV/Sanders Family
Tory Sanders collapsed during a confrontation with officers in the Mississippi County jail, authorities say.

The Sanders case is still pending. He was never charged with a crime during his fatal stay in Mississippi County but sought out police after getting lost driving from his home in Nashville toward Memphis. He is believed to have been suffering a mental-health episode and refused to leave the jail. Police and jail staff clashed with him periodically throughout the day, and Sanders was tased multiple times and pepper sprayed before Hutcheson and his subordinates pounced on him in a final confrontation.

See Also: Tory Sanders Made a Wrong Turn Into Missouri. He Never Made It Out

Three medical examiners later attributed his death to "excited delirium," a controversial condition that numerous experts doubt exists. A fourth doctor hired by the family disagreed and concluded he'd likely asphyxiated as his assailants pressed down on his neck.

Lawyers for the family, Hutcheson and the county have been going back and forth over the settlement. The county's motion suggests they had a deal for $2 million, but Samuel Wendt, who is representing Sanders' mother, has challenged that. Wendt didn't respond to a request for comment from the RFT, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch there was no deal yet and the county was trying to avoid paying an additional $1.5 million.

Emails between the attorneys, included in the county's filing, indicate the $2 million was the limit of the county's policy with the Missouri Public Entity Risk Management Fund. The $1.5 million would go through a separate policy.

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