A South Carolina sheriff has been indicted on multiple charges stemming from an arrest that went awry after he and other responding officers discovered they were being recorded.
Chester County Sheriff Alex “Big A” Underwood and two other ranking officers were indicted Tuesday, May 7, by a federal grand jury on eight charges stating they used excessive force to arrest a man live-streaming a car accident before conspiring to cover it up, according to The Post and Courier.
“It is paramount that law enforcement maintain the trust of the public which it serves,” said Jody Norris, FBI special agent in charge, after the indictment. “These charges are a reminder that nobody is above the law.”
Following the indictment, which also involved Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and Lt. Johnny Neal, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order suspending Underwood from the office of sheriff of Chester County. Donald Max Dorsey was appointed the interim sheriff until Underwood is acquitted, the indictment is otherwise disposed of, or until a sheriff is elected in the next general election, whichever happens first.
Dorsey hired retired South Carolina Highway patrolman Joe Tate as chief deputy, The Herald reported. It is not known if there is a replacement for Neal’s position.
“We will rebuild this department and protect the people of Chester County,” Dorsey said. “I want the citizens of Chester County to know we are going to do the job and keep them safe.”
On November 20, 2018, WMBF reported Kevin Simpson posted footage of emergency vehicles responding to a collision and a suspect on the run in a Facebook Live video. Simpson was standing outside his home filming when Underwood ordered the resident to get on his porch. After some back-and-forth, Simpson did as he was told but repeatedly shouted “manhunt” once he obliged. It was then that Underwood turned around and asked, “you got something you want to say?” before grabbing Simpson and arresting him.
The video stopped at that point.
The indictment, which refers to Simpson as K.S., states Underwood lunged out to grab and hold the Simpson by his torso and commanded him to give him his phone.
Once at the transport vehicle, the filing states Neal knocked a handcuffed Simpson to the ground, resulting in injuries to Simpson’s head and elbow. Neal, Underwood and Sprouse remained at Simpson’s home while he was transported to Chester County Detention Center. Then they realized that the resident, who reportedly tossed his phone inside his home before being grabbed, had uploaded the footage to Facebook.
The indictment continues by stating Underwood and Sprouse announced that a radio had been lost while Simpson was arrested. Sprouse and Neal told deputies to write a search warrant that would allow them to enter Simpson’s home. Sprouse went inside the residence without a warrant in search of the phone. He then told a deputy to call a number to try to find the device by tracking it as it rang. The chief deputy eventually took a phone from Simpson’s home and took it to a sheriff’s deputy responsible for evidence collection.
By January of this year, authorities say Sprouse and Underwood drafted an incident report containing false statements about Simpson’s arrest and Underwood and Sprouse wrote and signed a disciplinary report blaming the deputy running evidence collection for taking the phone after Simpson’s arrest. That same month, the indictment states, Underwood and Sprouse made false statements to the FBI about Simpson’s detainment and the phone.
The indictment stated the officers “knowingly and willfully did combine, conspire and confederate and agree together and with others to commit” several violations.
Underwood, the first Black sheriff in the county’s history, has the most amount of charges, including deprivation of rights, tampering, falsifying records in a federal investigation and making false statements. Sprouse’s charges are tampering, falsifying records and making false statements, while Neal has been charged with falsifying records and deprivation of rights. All three men have been charged with criminal conspiracy and are due to appear in court May 21, according to The State.
Charges against Simpson and his mother were dropped after the indictment, WSOCTV9 reported Thursday.