Controversy Surrounding Hutchinson Plea Deal

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This case deals with a local couple who owns a business on the eastside. Investigators say they caught them selling prescription drugs out of their restaurant.

Wednesday they cut a plea deal that allows them to escape jail or prison time, but no one is escaping the controversy surrounding the deal.

Working off a tip they received in September, Bay County sheriff's undercover officers began an operation at an East Avenue Restaurant, B&S Seafood. They claim they were able to buy prescription drugs like Loritabs and Hydrocodone inside of the business.

Deputies arrested the owners, 59-year-old Hubert "Buck" Hutchinson and his wife, 49-year-old Sue Ann Hutchinson, charging them with drug trafficking.

According to sentencing guidelines, Buck Hutchinson could have received 55 years in prison, but when the couple went to court Wednesday, Buck Hutchinson got two years house arrest, two years community service and 13 years probation.

Sue Ann Hutchinson received two years community service and three years probation. On Thursday, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen was still fuming.

"As sheriff of Bay County, I cannot sit back and not say something. And whether I make someone mad or not, whether I jeopardize a relationship, but when something like this happens without any input from law enforcement, that pretty much jeopardizes some things right there."

McKeithen was so adamant against this deal, he even showed up in court Wednesday and voiced his opposition, over the objections of the prosecutor.

McKeithen says, "I do not understand this. I'm totally at a loss that this can happen, that this seriousness of a crime, the seriousness of dealing drugs could go with basically two years house arrest."

"When you walk in a courtroom and you are told immediately it doesn't matter what you say, there's nothing you can do about it, it's a done deal, that's disturbing," Captain Rick Ramey said.

McKeithen says, "Obviously this deal was worked out between the attorney and the state attorney's office and the BCSO was left out and not only myself, but the investigators involved in the case, we're all up set about it."

State attorney Joe Grammer says that's not exactly true. Grammer says prosecutors informed the Sheriff's Office about the deal weeks ago.

"And we considered their wishes and knew they didn't agree with the plea. So they had their input, it just didn't achieve the result they thought it should."

Grammer cited several letters of reference as part of the reason for the plea deal. The letters from former Bay County Sheriff Lavele Pitts, former Chief Deputy W.E. Miller and others, attested to the Hutchinson's character.

McKeithen says, "Those letters, I just don't think they had any effect on what really
happened here."

But Grammer says, "I don't know what the sheriff's talking about. The letters have something to do with it because they're a factor in considering what's an appropriate punishment."

McKeithen says he's still worried about the message this decision sends to the community.

McKeithen: “That certainly sent us into a tizzy because this is major, major drugs that we're dealing with here."

Grammer: "We're not talking about boatloads of marijuana or carloads of cocaine. We're talking about a handful of drugs, which is a serious offense and treated as we thought appropriate."

McKeithen: "People are now going to start saying they're sick and 59 years old and they can't go to jail or prison. I think we've set a precedent that's not very good."

Grammer: “Every person who's charged with an offense in this county or circuit will be treated individually and every case will be looked at individually."

McKeithen said Hutchinson's attorney, Harry Harper, initially contacted sheriff's investigators and told them his clients were not interested in negotiating or a plea deal. McKeithen also pointed out that this is not Buck Hutchinson's first arrest, although he did not give any details about his previous record.