Lawsuit: Chester couple claims sheriff’s office, deputy targeted them because of race

A couple has filed a lawsuit against a former Chester County deputy, and the suspended and current county sheriffs. The couple claims in the lawsuit that they were targeted in a traffic stop because of their race.

The lawsuit, filed by Philerial and Terrell Holmes of York County, accuses the former deputy of making up a reason in 2017 to pull them over near Great Falls because they are black.

The couple was riding in a rental car near a predominantly African-American neighborhood at the time of the stop, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit names deputy Evan Hawthorne, suspended Sheriff Alex Underwood, and current Sheriff Max Dorsey as defendants. Dorsey was named as a defendant in the lawsuit although he was not working at the sheriff’s office in 2017.

Hawthorne and Dorsey are white. Underwood is black.

The suit claims the stop was part of a plan, scheme and practice by the sheriff’s office to “identify suspects solely on their race and/or minority status, and intentionally fabricate fraudulent pretextual traffic violations.”

Joanie Winters, lawyer for Chester County and the sheriff’s office, said Tuesday that Chester officials will address the lawsuit in a written response, which is required by law. Winters did not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit allegations.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Chester County civil court by lawyers from the McGowan, Hood, and Felder law firm in Rock Hill, claims Hawthorne intentionally did not tell dispatchers the car had a Mississippi license plate.

By not identifying the state, a traffic stop resulted because dispatchers said the tag information matched a South Carolina vehicle that was an SUV, not a passenger car.

The couple was in a passenger car with children in the back seat

The lawsuit claims Hawthorne lied about broken license plate lights, then tried to cover up the incident by turning off his body camera.

The lawsuit claims other officers body cams were on, and body camera video has been preserved.

The lawsuit claims illegal search and seizure and gross negligence, and asks for punitive damages.

Underwood was suspended from office in May 2017 after he was indicted by federal prosecutors on charges that he fabricated evidence and lied to the FBI in a cover up in a criminal case. Underwood and other officers were sued two weeks ago by a Chester man who claims he was beaten and strangled before Underwood tried to cover up the incident.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.