CHESTER — Newly elected Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate after finding a plastic storage bin filled with unserved arrest warrants on more than four dozen people accused of committing crimes over the past year.
Information for some of those warrants was never entered into the Sheriffs Office computer system, Underwood said Tuesday.
Since his November election over incumbent Richard Smith, Underwood, a former SLED agent, said hes been preparing to clean the house and clean the streets.
Part of that includes sifting through piles of paperwork and warrants found under desks and on top of file cabinets that were never filed or served to the people authorities say committed the crimes.
Its almost like (the crimes) never happened, Underwood said.
Efforts to reach Smith were unsuccessful Tuesday.
So far, officials have identified at least 50 people who were never served with their warrants, said Ginny Sloan, the offices head of 911, who said she has spent nights and weekends entering newfound warrants into a Sheriffs Office database many of them for the first time.
Those 50 all have active warrants against them, with charges ranging from shoplifting to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature to several drug violations.
Because the information wasnt in the system, deputies calling to search for active warrants on defendants were unable to see any of their outstanding arrest warrants, Underwood said, creating a possible safety hazard for deputies.
Every warrant should have a trail, Sloan said.
On Tuesday, Underwood and Sloan showed The Herald piles of active warrants issued for the people who still have to be picked up, Underwood said.
On the same table were nine more piles of papers that officials hadnt examined.
All of the paperwork, Sloan said, will have to be vetted so officials can determine whether the warrant has been served or recalled a process in which officials note a change or update that requires the warrant to be rescinded, and a new warrant to be issued in its place.
One of the warrants is for a man accused of raping a 42-year-old woman in her home while she slept. Another one will secure additional charges for a woman who kicked a deputy several times while she was resisting arrest.
None of the warrants found so far have been for people wanted for murder, Sloan said. But, whether its someone stealing an elderly persons vial of medicine or committing a murder, she said, youre still dealing with a victim.
Once we get it all figured out and verified, well get with the investigators to inform the victims and start making arrests, Underwood said.
Underwood was alerted of the warrants two weeks ago after firing an employee who entered warrant data in the Sheriffs Office records. When she packed up her belongings and prepared to leave, a deputy noticed that she was carrying a plastic bin filled with miscellaneous paperwork, he said.
The deputy realized much of the paperwork was original arrest warrants still bearing a magistrates signature.
Underwood is seeking help from SLED to determine whether charges can be filed.
Its a criminal investigation, he said.
When warrants are issued, employees in the warrant division are supposed to enter the information into a legal system and then file the paperwork in a file cabinet stored in the Sheriffs Office 911 center.
If deputies are performing a traffic stop and want to see whether the person has an outstanding warrant, they can call the dispatcher, who can look in the system, find the information, look up the warrant and then find the original warrant signed by a judge in the file cabinet.
An additional warrant cant be served on a person unless the dispatcher has the original warrant in hand to give to the deputy, Sloan said. The deputy then signs and issues the warrant.
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082