High School Basketball

KHSAA suspends referee, umpire after arrests on drug charges

Letcher County deputies escorted Tommy Hutton, left, and Joseph Wright after their arrest. Hutton is a basketball referee and baseball and softball umpire; Wright is a softball and baseball umpire.
Letcher County deputies escorted Tommy Hutton, left, and Joseph Wright after their arrest. Hutton is a basketball referee and baseball and softball umpire; Wright is a softball and baseball umpire.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has suspended a longtime referee and an umpire after they were charged in Letcher County with trafficking in the painkiller oxycodone, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said.

One of the men, Tommy Hutton, 60, refereed seven KHSAA Sweet 16 boys' state tournaments in Rupp Arena, the last in 2010, according to Tackett. Hutton also umpired high school softball and baseball games.

The other umpire charged, Joseph Jay "J.J." Wright, 39, was also head football coach at Fleming-Neon High School in Letcher County before it closed, according to the Mountain Eagle newspaper in Whitesburg, which first reported the April 29 arrests.

Hutton was charged with two counts of first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance. Wright was charged with three counts of first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance, one of them for trafficking in a controlled substance within 1,000 yards of an elementary school.

Letcher County Sheriff's Lt. Brian Damron, who arrested the men, said he had no knowledge of the men selling drugs at KHSAA games. Tackett said there had been no complaints of such activity.

Tackett confirmed that Wright and Hutton had recently umpired at high school softball and baseball games. He said their license to work at KHSAA games would be suspended until their cases were resolved in court.

Damron said that, during the monthlong investigation into allegations that the men were selling narcotics, a prospective drug buyer cooperating with police told officers that a drug buy could be made at a Little League game that Wright was attending. Damron said he did not know if Wright was officiating at the game or just attending it.

Damron said he declined to have the cooperating witness make the drug buy at a game.

Both men pleaded not guilty in Letcher District Court. They declined to comment Friday through officials at the Letcher County Jail where they were held under a $50,000 bond.

This year, before the men's arrest, the KHSAA for the first time conducted criminal background checks on the 4,100 people who referee and umpire at KHSAA games, Tackett said.

In the past, the KHSAA primarily conducted criminal checks on people who were refereeing or umpiring at state tournaments.

Such a check showed that Hutton had been indicted on May 8, 1978, for murder and was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in that case in 1981, Tackett said. But because Hutton's civil rights were restored in May 1990, Hutton was not prevented from working as a referee or umpire.

A person cannot be a KHSAA umpire or a referee if they have felony convictions or convictions involving a minor or sex crimes, Tackett said.

According to the Mountain Eagle, Wright was tried in Letcher Circuit Court twice in 2005 on charges of sodomy, sexual abuse and unlawful transaction with a minor.

The 14-year-old alleged victim testified in both trials that she was molested by Wright, who was a teacher, after she went to an after-school tutoring session to work on a term paper, the newspaper reported.

Two mistrials were declared in 2005, one in May and one in August, after juries were unable to agree on a verdict.

State Administrative Office of the Court records don't include the sex-related charges against Wright.

Tackett, the KHSAA commissioner, said because there was no conviction in that case, the charge would not prevent Wright from umpiring at KHSAA games.

Tackett said this year's widespread criminal checks of referees and umpires resulted in the KHSAA finding 30 to 40 people who were ineligible to work under KHSAA regulations.

Criminal background checks will be conducted on all umpires and referees who get new licenses under this year's new policy. Every five years, a criminal background check will be conducted again on all referees and umpires, Tackett said.

The background checks, Tackett said, are "a very important step in protecting the kids."

In the recent case against Wright and Hutton, a criminal complaint filed by Damron says Hutton sold oxycodone to a witness cooperating with law enforcement on April 19 and April 28. A complaint filed against Wright says he sold oxycodone to a cooperating witness on April 12, April 14 and April 25.

Damron said in an interview with the Herald-Leader that the case has been presented to a Letcher County grand jury and that additional charges are possible.

Before Wright was arrested on the drug trafficking charges, Damron arrested Wright on April 26 and charged him with first-degree possession of a controlled substance, second-degree possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and tampering with physical evidence.

In that case, Damron saw Wright sitting in a car and observed him hiding something in the car's console, according to a criminal complaint.

Damron said in the complaint that he found a controlled substance in a "cellophane baggie" and that Wright told him he had hidden two oxycodone tablets in the lower portion of the console. Damron said he found several types of controlled substances for which Wright did not have valid prescriptions.

The citation said Damron found a scraping device and a camouflage pouch containing a snorting tube in Wright's rear pocket, and a $2 bill with a powder-like substance inside was found in Wright's front pocket.

A powder-like residue was visible in both of Wright's nostrils, the complaint said. On those charges, Wright was released from jail on April 27 after posting a $5,000 bond. He was told not to drive, to maintain lawful behavior, and to obtain an alcohol/drug abuse assessment evaluation, according to court records.

Wright has been a baseball umpire for the past 12 years and has worked as a softball umpire for the past 10 years, Tackett said.

Hutton has been a high school basketball referee for 29 years, a softball umpire for 25 years and a baseball umpire for 20 years. He was a football referee for one year, Tackett said.

Hutton has mostly worked at games in an area that included Perry, Letcher and Pike counties.