KENNEWICK — The embattled Benton County sheriff facing a recall effort says he considers a cabin in Montana his primary home and spends every weekend there making renovations before winter arrives.
In recently filed public documents, Sheriff Jerry Hatcher said he only keeps a home in the county due to his "position requirements."
He made the residency statement in a divorce filing, as he tries to block his estranged wife from taking a week-long vacation to their out-of-state cabin that he now calls main home.
Also, with no divorce settlement or court trial in sight — in part due to the coronavirus pandemic — Hatcher said he needs $30,000 to cover his legal bills for fighting his recall petition up to the Washington state Supreme Court.
Hatcher wants Superior Court Judge Doug Federspiel to order his wife to pay the tab.
Monica Hatcher filed for divorce in September 2019.
Once their eight-year marriage was over, Jerry Hatcher moved out of their Badger Canyon house and back into a Kennewick house he previously owned.
Fourteen months later, Tri-Cities attorneys representing the former couple are still trying to equitably divide their community property, including assets and debts.
Hatcher said in a five-page declaration that he still cares "a great deal" about Monica Hatcher and does "not want to see any harm come to her."
But he said he alone has spent about $50,000 to maintain the couple's shared property in Mineral County, and is paying all household expenses there like electricity, gas, firewood, cable and internet.
He also argued that his wife does not like the cabin and is trying to "gain control" by pushing for a visit.
Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton said she'd heard that Hatcher had made statements about no longer living full-time in the county.
She told the Tri-City Herald there are no residency requirements for county officeholders aside from when they first file their declaration of candidacy.
Candidates must live in the district when they file, but there is nothing saying they can't move out of the district once in office.
However, a citizen or a prosecuting attorney can challenge an elected official's voter registration, which would then lead to questions about whether the elected officer is still eligible to serve in their position.
Chilton said she cannot start the challenge because she is the arbiter.
But, if presented to her, she would review statements and evidence from both the challenger and the elected official in an administrative hearing and make a decision.
That decision could be appealed to Superior Court by either side.
The auditor added that even if the elected official's voter registration in the county is canceled, that does not automatically remove the person from office. The challenger or someone else then would have to take it to court to argue that the elected official no longer has standing to be in office in Benton County.
Chilton did not want to weigh in on Hatcher's situation since she has not seen the court document in which the sheriff wrote that he considers the Montana cabin his "primary home."
She said typically people consider the county where they register to vote as their primary residence, even if they travel around the country or are snowbirds for half the year.
Chilton has been busy wrapping up the ballot count and certification from this month's general election, but she's also getting ready for the possibility of a special election on the Hatcher recall effort.
Court records do not show that an order has yet been entered on Jerry Hatcher's request for money or Monica Hatcher's request to visit the cabin with friends.
The sheriff, who makes almost $129,000 a year, claims his wife removed money from different bank accounts shortly before their separation and that a significant chunk of it is unaccounted for in financial records.
He also noted that Monica Hatcher's adjusted gross income in 2018 exceeded $1 million from wages and profits, and said it is fair to award him the funds now because his wife "has more than enough money."
Monica Hatcher countered in her court filings that she withdrew money in the fall of 2019 to pay $167,000 for their third quarter tax bill, and evenly split the remaining money that was in their joint savings account. She said she left her husband's half in the account and took out her share.
In the meantime, Monica Hatcher said she paid shared bills, continued to put money into their joint account for another month to cover her husband's credit card expenses, and wrote checks on the account through April 2020 for Jerry Hatcher's bills to ensure her own credit rating would not be affected.
A hearing is scheduled later this month to address Monica Hatcher's ongoing protection order against her husband, which was granted after she alleged being physically abused by him about two years earlier.
As part of the order, the sheriff had to turn over all of his firearms and ammunition, including his service pistol.
He was charged with felony witness tampering and fourth-degree assault, but the case was dismissed one week later because prosecutors said investigators with the Washington State Patrol needed more time to present their case.
Jerry Hatcher has repeatedly denied the allegations made by Monica Hatcher — or by his employees that led to the recall effort — and is trying to get the gun restriction lifted, saying there is no justification for it more than a year later.
"I am in uniform every day without a firearm, this puts me at great personal danger," he wrote. "If I was anyone but the elected sheriff, I would have to be put on administrative leave for over a year."
Hatcher added that being unarmed has prevented him from backing up other officers in need when responding to calls for service, and said he's been forced to take law enforcement actions without a gun because criminal activity was happening in front of him.
"My wife knows the danger we as police ... face everyday, especially now with all the civil unrest in our communities," he wrote.
There is no requirement for a sheriff to leave the position, even if he cannot carry a gun.
Federspiel, a Yakima County judge, has been on the case from the outset because of a conflict with Benton County Superior Court judges. However, a new judge will have to be assigned by January because Federspiel lost his re-election bid earlier this month.
Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Erickson, backed by the Benton County Deputy Sheriff's Guild, is trying to get his boss removed from office over allegations he intimidated witnesses and public servants in investigations, retaliated against them, tampered with physical evidence and violated his oath of office.
Erickson filed a recall petition in July. The proposed ballot synopsis with eight charges was approved by a Walla Walla County Superior Court judge in August. And the state Supreme Court's nine justices issued a unanimous ruling on Nov. 5 that cleared the way for the recall effort to move forward.
The high court, in denying Hatcher's appeal, only needed to determine "the factual and legal sufficiency of the alleged charges" for the effort to advance.
It will be up to the voters, if approved for a ballot, to decide if those allegations are true and worthy of removing Hatcher from his elected position.
Hatcher has been sheriff since May 2017. As an elected official, he can only be removed from office in a county election. He also can step down voluntarily before his term is up at the end of 2022.
A group of Benton County residents have organized the "Committee to Recall Sheriff Hatcher," while the sheriff has his own supporters in the "Benton County, WA Citizens for Sheriff Jerry Hatcher."
The group trying to oust Hatcher now has six months to gather 13,937 signatures from registered county voters. That number is 25 percent of the total number of votes cast for Hatcher in the 2018 election.
Once done, the petitions will be turned in to the Benton County Auditor's Office.
Chilton said her office would start validating the collected signatures within five days, and should complete the process within 10 days after receiving the petitions.
If there are 13,937 valid signatures on the petitions, Chilton then would call an election to be held in 45 to 90 days after declared sufficient.
Chilton told the Herald she's heard the committee is aggressively trying to collect all of the signatures before Christmas well in advance of the early May deadline.
Per state law, she would prefer to put the recall issue on a regularly scheduled election, otherwise she would have to call for a special election.
But to meet the time frame for the spring elections, Chilton said the petitions would have to be submitted by either mid-December for the Feb. 9 ballot or by March 3 for the April 27 ballot.
The Committee to Recall Sheriff Hatcher has announced plans to have signing stations at Kennewick's Hansen Park, Richland's Jefferson Park and West Richland's Bombing Range Sports Complex on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The campaign also is working on locations for every Saturday in Benton City and Prosser.
Hatcher has maintained that the union is trying to take over the sheriff's office management and diminish its accountability.
He said the recent ruling that gave the recall the green light was disappointing, in part because the Supreme Court reviewed his case without taking testimony or oral arguments.
The appeal was filed after Judge M. Scott Wolfram approved the eight charges on Aug. 20.
Hatcher's divorce attorneys, Mason Pickett and Steven Defoe, filed a motion on Sept. 16 asking for the $30,000 to cover their client's separate legal bill for the recall case.
They attached a declaration from lawyer George Telquist, who said, "Recall petitions require intensive work."
He estimated the cost of representing Hatcher would be about $30,000, and said the sheriff already made a deposit of $12,000.
"In order to effectively assist Sheriff Hatcher, the additional proceeds need to be deposited into my trust account," the lawyer wrote.
Telquist had written that declaration on Aug. 17, before Judge Wolfram made a decision and before the Supreme Court agreed to an accelerated review of the resulting appeal without any in-person arguments in Olympia.
Hatcher, in his own declaration, said he did not have the rest of the money to pay his attorney and "the county is not paying for one on my behalf."
In August, the Benton County commissioners said a resounding "hell no" when asked by Hatcher to pay for their fellow county official's legal defense.
Pat Chvatal, Monica Hatcher's lawyer, responded to the court filing by asking if the court has "the authority to order a division of community property" before a settlement or trial.
She argued that no information has been given to Judge Federspiel about the value of their total separate assets versus shared assets, or what economic position both the husband and wife will be in when the divorce is finalized.
"The court doesn't have the authority to dispose of any assets of the parties by giving some to the other without a trial or final division of property," Chvatal wrote.
"It has long been the position of the courts in Benton and Franklin counties that a premature division of property before trial is not allowed, and it should not be allowed in this case."