Missouri sheriff pleads guilty to cellphone tracking charges
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The sheriff of a rural southeast Missouri county pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges for using the cellphones of a judge, other law officers and others to track their whereabouts.
Mississippi County Sheriff Cory Hutcheson admitted to wire fraud and identity theft and agreed to resign by Saturday as part of a plea deal. Federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss 26 other counts.
Sentencing was set for Feb. 28.
Hutcheson still faces unrelated charges in state court that include robbery and assault, but his attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said he expects those charges to be dropped. Rosenblum said Hutcheson is expected to plead guilty only to a misdemeanor state charge of improperly using a notary.
Rosenblum said Hutcheson takes responsibility "for the lapse in judgment he made."
Hutcheson, 35, was a longtime deputy in Mississippi County, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of St. Louis. He was elected sheriff in November 2016 and took office in January 2017.
He was arrested just three months later for a scheme that began in 2014, when Hutcheson was a deputy. He used a database through a company called Securus Technologies Inc., which provided services to the sheriff's department, to track the cellphone locations of people including a former sheriff, Missouri State Highway Patrol officers and a judge, without their permission.
It wasn't clear what he hoped to gain by being able to track their whereabouts. Rosenblum said he didn't know.
"Sheriff Hutcheson simply misused an important law enforcement tool for his own purposes and, as a result, invaded the privacy of hundreds without the appropriate legal process," U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen said in a statement.
The state charges alleged that Hutcheon entered Joyce's Beauty Shop in East Prairie on March 24, 2017, 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, grabbed the check, removed the handcuff and left.
Woods felt chest pains and was taken to a hospital where it was determined she had a heart attack, authorities said. She recovered.
Later that day, Hutcheson submitted an affidavit to the county prosecutor seeking assault and kidnapping charges against Woods. He alleged that the sister-in-law was held against her will when she tried to pick up her final paycheck.
Witnesses said the sister-in-law was neither assaulted nor kidnapped, police said.
Hutcheson also was named in a lawsuit over the May 2017 death of an inmate at the county jail. The lawsuit filed by the family of Tory Sanders 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.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has sought Hutcheson's removal and noted that the plea agreement means that Hutcheson will be forbidden from ever working as a law enforcement officer.