The lawsuit filed by two Chester County firefighters alleging false arrest and assault against the sheriff and his chief deputy will not come to trial until at least March – long after the November sheriff’s election.
The roadside scuffle on Valentine’s Day 2014 between West Chester Fire Chief Andy Martin and his brother Tommy Martin – a former Chester County Councilman and school board member – and Sheriff Alex Underwood and his chief deputy over closing a snow-covered road following a truck crash was captured on dashcam video by state troopers. Deputies said the Martins threatened police and started the confrontation.
The upcoming November election was at the center of the incident. Andy Martin wanted the road closed, but deputies declined, saying state troopers held that authority. Martin then made comments over the emergency radio about the 2016 election, in which Underwood is up for re-election. Underwood and his chief deputy and another command staffer then responded to the scene before the scuffle.
Underwood overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary in June and now faces former Sheriff Richard Smith – whom Underwood ousted in 2012 – in the Nov. 8 election. Smith, who served as sheriff from 2008 to 2012 as a Democrat, has switched parties to run against Underwood as a Republican.
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Depositions in the lawsuit have been taken and more are scheduled for later this month, court documents show. A judge has ordered the two sides to go through mediation first to try to settle the case. If a settlement can’t be reached, the case can be set for trial as early as March 2017, according to a judicial order in the case.
Deputies arrested both Martins the day after the scuffle and they were forced to spend the night in jail.
A year later, prosecutors dropped the charges, saying there was not enough evidence to convict the Martins. Soon after, the Martins – who between them have more than 80 volunteer years as firefighters and claimed they were wrongly charged – filed the lawsuit.