Judge Keith Sutherland is a man of few words.
That is how colleagues and lawyers described Sutherland who is retiring after over 30 years on the bench. “No-nonsense” and “straight-shooter” are some of the other words lawyers use in describing the dean of the 12th Judicial Circuit.
So it was something of a departure when Sutherland issued an unusually sharp rebuke of a St. Charles County sheriff’s deputy at his sentencing in October.
In August, a Montgomery County jury found the deputy, Christopher E. Hunt, guilty of one count of felony burglary and two misdemeanor counts of assault and property damage for his role in a drug raid.
The polarizing case, which pitted police officer against police officer in court, has caused a fallout between the St. Charles and Warren County sheriff’s departments which continues today.
St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer called the Warren and Montgomery county deputies who testified against Hunt “liars” and instructed his deputies not to travel into Warren County to assist deputies with those departments.
Sutherland presided over the trial which was one of the more high-profile cases of his career. Before sentencing Hunt to five years in prison for his actions in the raid, he said he (Hunt) was “intoxicated with the badge, the power of the badge.”
Prosecutor Nicole Volkert and Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison point to Sutherland’s comments at the sentencing as substantiating what witnesses said happened the night of the raid.
Harrison has said that before anyone criticizes his men for testifying against another officer, they should read the trial transcript and especially the transcript of Hunt’s sentencing.
When asked, Sutherland declined to comment on the case citing the fact that the case has been appealed.
“Let’s see what the court of appeals does with it,” he said at his retirement party last week.
The Record obtained the transcript of the sentencing.
Sutherland prefaced his remarks by saying that he usually doesn’t make too many comments on cases at sentencing. He then blasted Hunt for his actions in the raid.
“Defendant says he saw Mr. Alberternst through a window that was covered completely by a window covering that other officers testified you couldn’t see anything through it. I think — I don’t know what else to call that except a lie. I have to agree with he prosecutor on that one. I think this defendant has a tendency to make up facts so he looks good making an arrest,” Sutherland said.
The judge also addressed the fact that police officers had testified against Hunt at trial.
“. . . I’d say it’s probably common knowledge that it’s very difficult to get one police officer or law enforcement officer to testify against another law enforcement officer. In this case we had law enforcement officers from four different agencies testify against this defendant. That is very telling to me.”
Sutherland went on to say the evidence supported the charges.
“I think the defendant’s story here was completely false, that he entered, broke in this residence with the intent to take revenge against Mr. Albertenrst, basically. There was evidence at the trial, we didn’t get into detail, great detail of it, but there was evidence of some bad blood between the two of them. I think this is — it was done for that purpose and that’s what supports the burglary charge as well as the property damage and the assault charge. So I have to agree with the state’s version of the events here and with the jury’s verdict. There’s no question in my mind.”
Sutherland later acknowledged that Hunt had been a good police officer.
“I think what we have here is a, and I’m sure he has been a fine police officer, military policeman before, I have no doubt. And I have no doubt he’s a brave man, no question about it. My problem is that is appears to me from what I have seen and heard that this defendant is — is, I don’t know how to put it, perhaps intoxicated with the badge, the power of the badge and has exceeded the appropriate constitutional limits of the power granted by that law enforcement badge.”