Chester County sheriff suspended after being indicted on federal charges

Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood (WBTV file photo)
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood (WBTV file photo)
Updated: May. 7, 2019 at 11:18 PM EDT
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CHESTER, SC (WBTV) - Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood has been suspended and an interim sheriff appointed after Underwood, his chief deputy and a lieutenant were indicted by a federal grant jury.

The US Attorney for South Carolina announced Underwood, Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and Lieutenant Johnny Neal were indicted on eight counts related to a conspiracy to cover up an unlawful arrest and an excessive use of force.

After the indictment was announced Tuesday, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued an executive order suspending Underwood from the office of Sheriff of Chester County and appointing Donald Max Dorsey as interim sheriff until Underwood is acquitted, or the indictment is otherwise disposed of, or until a sheriff is elected in the next general election, whichever happens first.

The indictment stems from the arrest of Kevin Simpson on November 20, 2018.

Simpson was arrested by Underwood himself after the Sheriff approached him while he was streaming a manhunt happening right in front of his house on Facebook.

The video shows Underwood and Simpson talking. Simpson makes a comment as Underwood walked away. The video then shows Underwood going back on Simpson’s porch and arresting him.

Specifically, the indictment says Underwood lunged out to grab and restrain the resident by his torso, and demanded that the resident turn over his cellphone.

Later, the indictment says, Neal further assaulted Simpson while placing him in his patrol car.

The US Attorney’s Office also allege Underwood, Sprouse and Neal attempted to falsify documents and lied to investigators in an effort to impede the investigation.

WBTV first reported details of the ongoing federal investigation into the incident in late April, on the same day FBI agents raided the Chester County Sheriff’s Office as part of a separate but related investigation into corruption allegations.

In an exclusive interview with WBTV after the indictment was announced on Tuesday, Kevin Simpson and his mother, Ernestine, who was also arrested by Underwood in the incident, said they were grateful prosecutors were taking steps to hold Underwood accountable for his actions.

“They would’ve just kept doing the same thing over and over again. So, I’m just glad I did that and brought to people’s attention,” Kevin said. “You have rights. You have rights and they cannot be violated.”

“There’s probably a lot more people who have been through this,” Ernestine said.

Attorney Everett Stubbs is representing the Simpsons in this ordeal. He said their charges have not been dismissed but he hopes that will change in the near future.

Stubbs issued a statement in response to the indictment praising investigators for taking action.

“The facts of this ugly situation are not a typical representation of how the vast majority of law enforcement officers interact with citizens that they have sworn to serve and protect,” the statement said in part.

“We will never shy away from bringing these types of cases,” U.S. Attorney Sherri 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.”

“It is paramount that law enforcement maintain the trust of the public which it serves,” said Jody Norris, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s South Carolina Field Office, which led the investigation. “These charges are a reminder that nobody is above the law. We will continue to aggressively investigate allegations of law enforcement misconduct, and we are grateful to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for their assistance in this case.”

Underwood, Neal, and Sprouse will make their initial appearances at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, at the Matthew J. Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia.

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