KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A 28-year-old inmate who died after a jail altercation had asked police to see a counselor and authorities received mental health evaluations that prompted them to keep him in custody, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley told reporters Thursday.
Nashville, Tennessee, resident Tory Sanders died Friday after his arrest and detention at the Mississippi County jail, located in a rural county of about 14,000 residents about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of St. Louis. His death and the alleged involvement of the county's embattled sheriff prompted an investigation by Hawley's office and the sheriff's temporary removal from office.
"I want to make this pledge to the family of Tory Sanders and to the people of Missouri: my office will conduct a full, independent and vigorous investigation into the events that happened at the Mississippi County jail," Hawley said. "We will get to the bottom of what happened there and will see that justice is done."
Hawley said Sanders left his Nashville home May 4 before his arrest the next day and ran out of gas in southeastern Missouri. He hitchhiked and eventually ended up in the small Mississippi County town of Charleston, where Hawley said he approached police at a convenience store and appeared confused about where he was.
Hawley said Sanders approached police again May 5 and told officers he had a warrant out for his arrest in Nashville related to an altercation with the mother of his children. He also told officers he was in "some sort of distress" and asked to see a counselor, the attorney general said.
Police arrested him, and Hawley said Sanders later received two mental evaluations at the county jail, the second of which led an official to recommend he be held for 96 hours.
Jailers then tried to move Sanders to a different holding cell, but Sanders was "apparently unwilling to move," Hawley said. The attorney general said police used pepper spray on him and jail staff deployed stun guns at least three times.
That's when Hawley said Cory Hutcheson, who has since been temporarily removed from office as Mississippi County sheriff in response to Sanders' death, stepped in.
Hawley said Hutcheson directed police and jail staff to force their way into Sanders' cell. Shortly after, Sanders was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead.
Coroner Terry Parker, who has been named acting sheriff, told the Riverfront Times that Sanders had become "agitated and uncooperative" and that he collapsed while jail staff were trying to restrain him. He said an autopsy showed no signs of foul play or trauma. Toxicology results are pending. Hutcheson, 33, told the newspaper in an email that Sanders hurt six officers in the confrontation.
Hutcheson's attorney, Scott Rosenblum, told The Associated Press that Hutcheson welcomes an investigation by Hawley's office, which Rosenblum said "would serve to show no criminal conduct on the part of Cory or any of his deputies."
The investigation comes as the embattled sheriff faces a raft of charges and two federal lawsuits.
One of those who sued is is a 77-year-old woman whom Hutcheson is charged with handcuffing with so much force that she suffered a heart attack. Also suing are five members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who are the alleged victims of illegal monitoring. Hutcheson is charged with using a system that provides the location of cellphones in near real time to examine information about them.
Curt Poore, who is representing all of those who have sued, told AP that the officers who were subjected to the surveillance in 2014 and were part of a team that conducts investigations into serious wrongdoing. Poore said he is seeking further information about the motive behind the monitoring.
"A sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of a county," Poore said. "When a sheriff doesn't follow the law, it places everyone in that county at risk. The sheriff here hasn't followed the law and he must be held accountable for his actions."
Both suits seek injunctions and monetary damages.
The FBI and Missouri State Highway Patrol arrested Hutcheson in April on 18 counts. His sheriff's license was suspended after his arrest, which would have prevented him from acting as sheriff after he was released from jail. But the terms of the suspension still allowed him access to law enforcement facilities such as the jail.
Hawley said he's now trying to get Hutcheson permanently removed from office, which Rosenblum said Hutcheson is fighting.
The Missouri Attorney General's Office has alerted the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI for a potential civil rights investigation, Hawley has said.
Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com . Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report from Jefferson City, Missouri.
Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com