Chester County, South Carolina sheriff Alex “Big A” Underwood and two of his subordinates were indicated on Tuesday related to an alleged conspiracy to cover up an unlawful arrest and the excessive use of force against a detained individual.
Also indicted were Chester County chief deputy Robert Sprouse and lieutenant Johnny Ricardo Neal, Jr.
Per statute, Underwood is automatically suspended from office pending the resolution of the charges against him, meaning that for the second time in as many months South Carolina governor Henry McMaster was called upon to appoint an interim sheriff.
He wasted little time in doing so, too, naming Donald “Max” Dorsey – a captain in the narcotics division of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – to fill the post “until Underwood is acquitted, convicted, the indictment is otherwise disposed of, or until a sheriff is elected and qualifies in the next general election.”
Incidentally, Underwood is also facing scrutiny for allegedly misappropriating public funds. In mid-March of this year, we exclusively reported that the 55-year-old sheriff was at the heart of a federal investigation – one quickly approaching a point of “critical mass.”
“Underwood’s lavish spending fits squarely into a deeper story about misbehaving sheriffs,” Bartelme and Cranney noted, referring to his office as a “portrait of excess.”
In a surprise twist, though, the charges announced by federal authorities on Tuesday had nothing to do with the mismanagement of public funds. Instead, all eight counts against Underwood, Sprouse and Neal were related to an incident that took place last fall.
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“Today, we announce the worst kind of charges: Allegations of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement,” said U.S. attorney Sherri Lydon (above), whose office will prosecute the three law men. “Those who swear to protect and uphold the law, while at the same time using their positions of power to hide their own violations of the law, will be held accountable. The American system of government depends on those in power obeying the rules and ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and equally.”
The indictments in this case were unsealed eight days after a joint federal-state raid on the Chester County, S.C. sheriff’s office – and one day after this news outlet reported that cell phones from Underwood and his subordinates were seized during that raid.
According to Lydon’s office, the charges in question stem from the November 18, 2018 arrest of an individual who is identified in the indictment as “K.S.” Authorities claim Underwood and his deputies accosted and injured “K.S.” after he used his cell phone “to live-stream … law enforcement activity.”
Specifically, “K.S.” was allegedly knocked to the ground while restrained in handcuffs, “injuring (his) head and elbow.”
Underwood, Sprouse and Neal were also accused of illegally obtaining evidence and fabricating statements in official incident reports related to the arrest and illegal detention of “K.S.” – and of tampering with evidence and making false statements to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) when questioned about their actions.
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Specifically, Underwood, Sprouse and Neal were each charged with one count of conspiracy – which carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Underwood was also charged with deprivation of rights for allegedly incarcerating “K.S.” without probable cause, resulting in him being “detained in jail for three nights.” That charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison.
Neal was also charged with one count of deprivation of rights for the alleged physical assault on “K.S.”
Underwood and Sprouse were further charged with one count apiece of tampering related to their alleged seizure of a cell phone belonging to “K.S.” – which authorities claim they attempted “to alter, destroy, or conceal … with the intent to impair its integrity or availability for use in the federal case involving the deprivation of K.S.’s rights.” That count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Neal and Sprouse were further charged with falsifying records in connection with the case, specifically “creating a false incident report indicating that K.S. repeatedly left his yard to enter the roadway and that K.S. directed profane language toward them – when in fact K.S. did neither – and caused that report to go to the FBI.” That count also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a fine of $250,000.
Additionally, Underwood and Sprouse were charged with falsifying records related to a disciplinary report that allegedly attempted to shift the blame for the seizure of the cell phone – and causing that report to go to the FBI. That count also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a fine of $250,000.
(Click to view)
(Via: Chester County Sheriff)
Finally, Underwood and Sprouse were charged with one count apiece of making false statements to the FBI. In fact, the indictment alleges Underwood lied to investigators on May 3 (last Friday) about his knowledge of the events related to the arrest of “K.S.” Lying to the FBI carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
For those of you keeping track, Underwood is facing 51 years behind bars and $1 million in fines – while Neal is facing 26 years and $500,000 in fines. Sprouse is facing 70 years and $1.25 million in fines.
As with anyone accused of committing any crime, Underwood, Sprouse and Neal are considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as they may wish to enter a plea in connection with any of the charges filed against them.
Underwood is no stranger to scandal. In 2014, he was accused of threatening local leaders over a funding dispute. Two years later, he was implicated in an alleged affair with a local cheerleading coach.
South Carolina sheriffs are obviously no stranger to scandal, either, as regular readers of this news are by now well aware.
This is the second major law enforcement corruption case Lydon has announced this year. A little over a month ago, her office announced multiple indictments in connection with law enforcement officers in Orangeburg County, S.C. who allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for their participation in a host of criminal activities – including obtaining visas to help undocumented aliens remain in the United States illegally.
Meanwhile in February Lydon announced a guilty plea related to federal charges her office brought against former S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Dan Johnson, who admitted using taxpayer funds “to cover personal and non-office related expenses.”
“We will never shy away from bringing these types of cases,” Lydon said. “We will work day in and day out to make sure our citizens in Chester and across South Carolina can have confidence in their public servants, their government, and certainly their police officers.”
Here are the federal indictments …20190507-Indictment-1
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