The Washington State Patrol will not be investigating whether the Benton County sheriff broke the law when he stockpiled 14,200 rounds of county ammunition in his Kennewick home over several years.
The Benton County commissioners instead are considering hiring a special criminal investigator with no ties to the community.
Last month, Benton County commissioners had asked WSP Chief John R. Batiste and the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate Sheriff Jerry Hatcher, who also is facing a recall petition and a state audit.
Batiste recently declined, claiming it would be outside the state agency’s jurisdiction and said it should be handled by the Kennewick Police Department.
However, Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg told the Tri-City Herald that his department has not been asked to do a criminal investigation of the county-owned ammunition.
Even if the request was made, he told the Herald he believes it would be inappropriate and publicly perceived as a conflict of interest.
For a year, Kennewick officers have been involved in the sheriff’s personal legal troubles, including serving protection orders in Hatcher’s divorce case and seizing his guns under a judge’s order.
Hohenberg also points out that the home where the ammo cache was discovered is outside the Kennewick city limits in unincorporated Benton County.
In a separate response to county commissioners, the Washington state Attorney General’s Office says without a formal request from a county prosecutor or the governor, the AG has no authority to review a case for criminal charges.
“No one wants to touch it, is what it comes down to,” county Commissioner Jerome Delvin told the Tri-City Herald. “In my mind it says that certain people are untouchable. I expect (elected officials) to be held accountable.”
While disappointed with the state patrol’s decision, Delvin said he and his two fellow commissioners are not giving up on finding out if Sheriff Hatcher broke any laws.
Hatcher maintains he has not violated any law or department policy, and that there was no ill intent in having the stash at home. He says it was there for convenience so he could go practice shooting whenever he wanted.
But Benton County commissioners, borrowing from a Franklin County Sheriff’s Department review, said the amount of county-owned ammunition retrieved from Hatcher’s home was “alarming.”
Delvin said he wasn’t aware of the county’s ability to create a special independent investigator, and he plans to discuss that option with commissioners Jim Beaver and Shon Small.
In addition, the county is waiting for an update from the Washington state Auditor’s Office. The auditors were asked to look into the inventory and tracking of weapons and ammunition in the Benton County Sheriff’s Office as part of their annual audit review.
Delvin followed up with the state on Friday and was told they’re still waiting on the documents they’ve requested from sheriff’s officials.
Hatcher, who was undersheriff for several years before becoming sheriff 3 1/2 years ago, has acknowledged that new programs need to be implemented to “ensure the proper transparency on the issuance, handling and use of department equipment” and supplies.
And he blames part of the problem on organizational complacency and said he inherited the department’s current policies, operational practices and “to some extent our culture.”
The sheriff continues to blame recent accusations against him — including a union “no-confidence” vote, the ongoing recall effort and the county commission’s repeated calls for a criminal investigation — on personal and political agendas.
He claims the Benton County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild is trying to take over operations at the sheriff’s office.
Last year, the commissioners removed the county jail from his control. Since Hatcher is independently elected, the county commissioners have no authority over the sheriff’s office other than to approve his department’s budget.
FRANKLIN COUNTY INVESTIGATION
Earlier this year, Hatcher asked the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office for an administrative review of his agency’s compliance with its own standard procedures and practices.
A 90-page report, written by Franklin County sheriff’s Capts. Adam Diaz and Monty Huber, was not released to the public but the Herald obtained a copy.
The completed report was submitted to Hatcher in May along with a two-page letter from Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond, which said Hatcher’s commanders generally believe he “stole the disputed ammunition.”
Raymond’s opinion also was that the labor union wants to take control.
“As you will soon see, this internal review quickly turned into, ‘It’s about Sheriff Hatcher,’” wrote Sheriff Raymond. “I encourage you to listen to each interview recording. I believe the contents will be enlightening for you as you set a path forward for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.”
Raymond recommended a complete inventory of property issued and stored, followed by strict controls for the future. Limitations need to be set on who dispenses and tracks the county property, it said.
“In this arena, do whatever it takes to remove the perception of the ‘entitlement’ which appears to be occurring within the Benton County Sheriff’s Office,” said Raymond. “A paradigm shift needs to occur to change this culture.”
Raymond’s summary letter did not go as far as the conclusions of his own investigators.
The captains said it was “alarming” how much ammunition was recovered from Hatcher’s home. And they wrote that Hatcher wasn’t known to shoot at least a few of the six different calibers that were found.
Diaz and Huber questioned if Hatcher initially had a lot more of the county ammo in his personal possession and had gone through it since the sheriff “implied he is always shooting or practicing with his firearms.”
Yet, a majority of the 14,2000 ammunition appeared undisturbed when it was handed over to Kennewick police earlier this year.
That too was troubling to investigators because it’s “characteristic of being stored rather than being shot for practice usage.”
Diaz and Huber said they had so many further questions about the cache found in Hatcher’s home garage, but the two stopped short of calling it a crime because they were not asked to do a criminal investigation.
“Investigators did not continue with further questions of the BCSO sheriff because that could convolute a criminal investigation related to the issue of ammunition possession since we were involved in an administrative review with direction to note any violations of Washington state law,” the investigators wrote. “We understood this to mean, identify any potential crimes that are being raised and report them and the cursory facts obtained.”
Hatcher told the Herald in a recent interview, “Every single round I had at my house was used at the Benton County range for exactly what it was intended to be used for — that’s to practice with. We have a large amount of deputies that have practice rounds in their house, in their cars, and it’s designed for convenience to go to the range.”
In order to have a crime in the state of Washington you have to have intent, he said, arguing there is nothing in the report to indicate he was stealing the ammunition, selling it or giving it to people.
Hatcher was undersheriff in 2015 and 2016 when the ammunition was received, according to labels on the boxes and invoices, the report said.
Of the 14,200 rounds recovered from Hatcher’s garage, 500 were .45-caliber practice ammo that had been addressed to the home of a then-employee in the corrections department.
Investigators don’t know how it ended up with Hatcher.
The remaining 13,700 rounds consisted of:
- 5,000 rounds of .22-caliber
- 4,000 rounds of .40-caliber
- 3,000 rounds of .223-caliber
- 1,000 rounds of 9mm
- 500 rounds of .308-caliber for practice
- 200 rounds for .308-caliber for duty use
Hatcher recently told the Herald that he has shot all of those calibers.
He noted that SWAT members have thousands of rounds at their own houses in case of a last-minute call-out to a scene.
Additionally, several of his command staff members who were interviewed by Franklin County have had their own mini stockpiles at home without his approval, claimed Hatcher. Yet, he says, they did not mention that to investigators.
Hatcher criticized his own employees for giving their “opinions” to the Franklin County investigators about the amount of ammunition and the assault allegations made by Hatcher’s estranged wife.
“They’re not allegations, they’re opinions. And when police get outside of fact-based police work and get into opinions, that’s when we get into trouble,” Hatcher told the Herald. “That’s what the nation is upset about with police. Police need to stick to facts.”
“There is nowhere in Washington state law that allows for opinions when it comes to whether there is a violation of the law or not,” he added.
“It’s based on facts, and in this particular case there was absolutely no intent ever to use any ammo for anything other than it was designed. This is nothing other than somebody pushing their agenda.”