KENNEWICK – Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher swapped insults with a fellow elected leader Wednesday as he mounted a spirited defense of his stewardship of the county’s 700-plus-bed jail.
Hatcher accused Commissioner Jerome Delvin of exploiting his legal issues to mount a takeover of the jail. The sheriff filed a three-page letter with the county commission on Monday.
Hatcher told the Tri-City Herald that Delvin is telling “half-truths” to make the case for separating the jail from the sheriff’s office.
Delvin returned the insult.
“It’s his spin with half-truths and lies,” Delvin said in an email response to the sheriff’s claim.
Last week, Delvin moved to take control of the jail during the county commission’s regular business meeting.
The matter wasn’t on the agenda, but the commission voted 2-1 to proceed with the takeover and hiring a manager to run it. The final vote is set for Oct. 22.
Delvin accused Hatcher of being “distracted” after initially being criminally charged with choking his estranged wife during an argument over allegations of an extramarital affair.
Late Wednesday, the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges saying more investigation is needed. The case was dropped without prejudice, which could allow it to be refiled later.
Managing the jail
Hatcher’s letter offers a spirited defense and accuses the commissioners of neglecting the mental health issues affecting many jail inmates.
Delvin along with Commissioners Shon Small and Jim Beaver acknowledged at their week’s meeting Tuesday that they’d read Hatcher’s letter but did not read it into the record.
The Tri-City Herald requested a copy under the state’s Public Records Act.
Delvin argued at the meeting that Hatcher was unresponsive to inquiries about lack of payment to Lourdes Medical Center, which provides mental health services to inmates.
The bill hasn’t been paid since June.
Hatcher said in his letter that is untrue.
Hatcher said he was told in a July 22 email from Kyle Sullivan, the county’s human services manager, that money to pay the mental health services bill was dwindling.
Hatcher said the memorandum of understanding with Lourdes is handled by the county’s health department, which falls under the control of the commissioners, not the sheriff.
Hatcher said that after he received Sullivan’s message, he directed his staff to investigate. He relayed their findings to the commissioners by email. Hatcher said he received no response.
Hatcher said he raised the issue again Aug. 28 at a meeting of the county’s Law and Justice Council, recently revived to discuss the future of the controversial Public Safety Sales Tax.
Hatcher argues that the county commissioners can’t claim it didn’t know about the problems with mental health services at the jail.
“Commissioner Delvin, this fact pattern clearly demonstrates that I am not distracted. I have been working in a collaborative manner with several work county groups (for several months) to resolve the current issue. Your comments and reason for wanting to take control of the jail are clearly without merit because your office was aware and in fact in charge of the MOU and clearly your office staff were clearly aware of the funding issue,” he wrote.
Hatcher defended his office’s management of the jail, calling it a model facility committed to helping inmates with mental health and drug addiction issues get healthy and avoid returning to jail.
“We want to reduce recidivism,” he said.
The jail’s Medication Assisted Treatment program, which provides medical assistance to drug-addicted inmates and links them to treatment when they’re released, has drawn statewide attention and been profiled by Seattle media, he noted.
He said Delvin was angry when he was excluded from the interview.
Hatcher also noted that just six of 39 Washington counties have separated their jails from their sheriff’s offices.
“There is not a single person in the commissioners office that has any experience running a jail and therefore it will lead to operational inefficiencies and poor decision-making,” he wrote.
If the commissioners approve the takeover, the county will create an independent corrections department led by an administrator who works for the commission, not the sheriff.
The now-dropped criminal charges were filed after Hatcher’s wife, Monica, filed for divorce, and later approached Delvin, a friend and former police officer, about the alleged attack.
Hatcher has called the claims “politically motivated” by Delvin and Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller.
Hatcher traces the breakdown in his relationship with Delvin, a fellow Republican, to several ongoing issues.
He’s criticized the commission’s decision to bank millions of dollars generated by the voter-approved Public Safety Sales Tax, the decision to cap the jail at 550 inmates, depriving the county of income, and the commission’s “disengagement” in addressing opioids and other issues faced by law enforcement.
Hatcher encouraged the public to comment on the jail issue before the Oct. 22 decision.
“The public deserves to weigh in on these issues,” he said.
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