2 weeks after indictment, suspended Chester Sheriff Underwood, deputies set for court

The suspended Chester County sheriff and two top deputies accused by the FBI of falsifying records after an unlawful arrest are set to make their first appearances in court Tuesday.

Suspended sheriff Alex Underwood, former chief deputy Robert Sprouse and Lt. Johnny Neal, all were indicted May 7 by a federal grand jury.

None of the three were arrested. All three are set to be arraigned at 10 a.m. Tuesday in federal court in Columbia on the felony indictments that include accusations that Underwood and Sprouse lied to the FBI and spearheaded a coverup after a false arrest of a man who took video of a confrontation with Underwood.

Spouse’s lawyer Michael Laubshire filed documents with the court late last week saying he wanted all federal grand jury information that led to the indictments.

“In order to have a fair trial, we need to have the same information the government has,” Laubshire said in a telephone interview with The Herald. “We are asking that they give us all the information they have.”

Laubshire declined to discuss specifics of the cases.

“Everyone is presumed innocent in our system,” Laubshire said.

It is not uncommon that the three police officers were not arrested when indicted, said legal expert Miller Shealy, a Charleston School of Law professor and former federal prosecutor.

“The federal system more often than not uses indictments as charging documents, not arrest warrants,” Shealy said. “These officers were not arrested yet were treated the same as anyone else in the federal system who is accused of a crime of this type. There is no requirement for arrest in this type of case. There is also no requirement for bond.”

However, Shealy said the charges of false arrest, falsifying documents, lying to the FBI and more are serious accusations.

“These charges a serious, very serious,” Shealy said.

Underwood faces more than 50 years in prison if convicted of all charges. The others also face indictments that can carry years in prison if convicted.

Shealy said it is likely that lawyers for all three men will argue at Tuesday’s first appearance that each has no record, is not a threat to the community and is not a flight risk. All three have community roots and are no longer threats to others as they have been suspended from police duties, Shealy said.

“I would not be surprised if these three defendants receive a personal recognizance bond in this case,” Shealy said.

However, federal prosecutors could ask that the defendants post some sort of bond, Shealy said.

Underwood’s lawyers filed documents stating he was declining to speak to the FBI or any other federal agents without his lawyers present. Underwood was indicted for lying to the FBI two weeks after the FBI raided his office in late April.

Federal prosecutors identified the man who was falsely arrested as K.S. in court documents. K.S. is Kevin Simpson of Chester County, according to Simpson and Simpson’s lawyer.

Underwood is accused of arresting Simpson illegally after Simpson broadcast a cellphone video on Facebook Live in November 2018 of a confrontation with Underwood near a vehicle crash site, court documents show. The Simpsons live next to the Chester County wreck scene. Underwood then set in motion an illegal plan to confiscate the phone and video, then arrest both Simpson and his mother, according to the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Underwood and the others officers concocted phony police reports to justify seizing the phone and video, federal prosecutors say.

Underwood’s lawyer Stanley Myers asked the public to keep an open mind and wait to hear Underwood’s side of the story.

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office dropped all charges against Simpson and his mother, Ernestine, two days after Underwood, Sprouse and Neal were indicted.

Simpson has a right to be at the court hearing Tuesday and has a right to speak if he chooses, Shealy said.

“The victim always has a right to be heard,” he said.

Underwood, sheriff since being elected in 2012, was suspended after the indictments by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.

Max Dorsey, a former State Law Enforcement Division agent from Chester, was appointed sheriff May 7 after Underwood was forced from office.

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