Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher is under criminal investigation once again for allegedly forcing his estranged wife to recant her statements of domestic abuse.
The investigation by the Washington State Patrol comes 1½ years after charges against Benton County’s embattled top cop were dropped because detectives needed more time.
“We can confirm that we are doing some follow-up investigation on the original witness-tampering case,” Sgt. Darren Wright in the State Patrol’s main office in Olympia told the Tri-City Herald on Wednesday.
He could not provide any further details of the investigation or comment on its status.
Retired sheriff’s Commander Steve Caughey confirmed to the Herald that the investigation has been reopened.
Caughey voluntarily resigned in December after 27 years with the department, saying Hatcher will “stoop to attack the credibility of those who he viewed as a threat” and describing his actions as “legally questionable.”
Caughey said he was interviewed Wednesday about his former boss’ alleged criminal activity involving Monica Hatcher.
Investigators also met with several other witnesses who are employed by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, including Commander Jon Law, Lt. Erik Magnuson and Sgt. Justin Gerry.
Hatcher, now 57, is facing a recall effort for alleged retaliatory acts involving employees, intimidation, abuse of discretion and tampering with and destruction of evidence.
He had been charged for one week in October 2019 in Benton County Superior Court with felony witness tampering and fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.
The allegations came out of the divorce case with his then wife of eight years, Monica Hatcher.
At the time, Jerry Hatcher emphatically denied touching his wife two years prior or trying to get her to change her story during the criminal investigation. He has been insistent over the past 18 months that he was “exonerated” of the criminal charges.
However, the case was dismissed without prejudice, which meant prosecutors could refile at a later date if additional evidence came to light.
The statute of limitations on the domestic-violence assault has expired, meaning prosecutors can no longer pursue that charge.
When the case was dropped, Hatcher’s attorney, Scott Johnson, said it serves as an example of the danger of rushing to judgment.
“Sheriff Hatcher was relieved but not surprised by the filing,” said Johnson. “Since the beginning of this case, Sheriff Hatcher has maintained his innocence and was confident that when all of the facts were exposed, the case against him would fall apart.”
Two weeks after filing for divorce, Monica Hatcher filed a petition claiming Jerry Hatcher had strangled and threatened her in December 2017 when she confronted her husband about an ongoing extramarital affair.
As investigators were looking into those claims, Monica Hatcher said her husband forced her to recant her abuse statements by writing a four-page email to a detective saying she is “confused about quite a lot of things” and cannot in good faith swear to what happened two years ago.
Monica Hatcher eventually sent the email but told investigators the following day that Jerry Hatcher was trying to manipulate her and other witnesses into not cooperating.
Jerry Hatcher described those allegations as “inflammatory and damaging.”
As a part of a restraining order, the sheriff has not been allowed to possess any guns for the past 1½ years. He has refused to step aside or resign despite calls for it by Sheriff’s Office unions, the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police and the Benton County commissioners.
There is no requirement for a sheriff to leave the position, even if he cannot carry a gun.
Hatcher has held the position since May 2017 after the early retirement of Sheriff Steve Keane.
After Sgt. Jason Erickson’s recall petition was granted last summer by a Walla Walla County Superior Court judge, Hatcher appealed the decision to the Washington state Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court issued a unanimous ruling on Nov. 6, denying Hatcher’s appeal and giving the go-ahead for the recall.
Later, in a 47-page opinion, the nine justices said the charges in the petition “illustrate a toxic and authoritarian culture that Sheriff Hatcher has created since his appointment in 2017.”
They also said the sheriff may have committed a felony when he backdated a formal investigative request by one week. The sentence for that could be a 10-year maximum prison term.
“That the sheriff, who has been elected to uphold the law, would also intentionally violate it, is substantial,” the justices wrote in their opinion.
Hatcher has said the eight charges in the recall petition are “completely unsubstantiated allegations,” and notes that the judges had to assume the allegations were factual instead of requiring a burden of proof.
In order to qualify for an election, Erickson and the Committee to Recall Sheriff Hatcher need to gather nearly 14,000 signatures from registered county voters. That number is 25 percent of the total votes cast for Hatcher in the 2018 election.
The committee has been actively gathering signatures on weekdays and weekends in an attempt to make a spring ballot.