Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood was indicted one week after FBI and South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division agents conducted an investigation at the county sheriff’s office.
Underwood, a former SLED agent, has been indicted with eight counts.
The indictments say Underwood, Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and Lt. Johnny Neal were involved in a conspiracy in November 2018 to cover up an unlawful arrest and excessive use of force involving a man in Fort Lawn.
“Today, we announce the worst kind of charges: Allegations of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement,” U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon said in a statement Tuesday. “Those who swear to protect and uphold the law, while at the same time using their positions of power to hide their own violations of the law, will be held accountable. The American system of government depends on those in power obeying the rules and ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and equally.”
Underwood and Sprouse each face more than 50 years in prison if convicted of all counts, Lydon said.
This isn’t the first time Underwood’s reputation has been questioned.
Underwood was accused of forcing a former deputy into sex in a lawsuit filed in 2014.
Former Maj. Mary Ann Tolbert told a court she had sex with Underwood in 2013 because she was afraid for her job. Underwood denied the allegations. Both Tolbert and Underwood admitted to having a consensual affair years earlier.
A Chester County jury sided with Underwood and cleared him in the 2016 trial.
Underwood also was one of the subjects in a March article published by The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston. That article stated that Underwood spent public money on first-class airplane tickets to several sheriff’s conferences, along with top hotels and chauffeurs.
The Herald published articles on Underwood’s “Project S.T.O.R.M.” in February. The project is a “Scared Straight”-type program that some child psychology experts called abuse. Underwood said he has never heard a negative response from parents about the program.
Alex Underwood was elected as Chester County Sheriff in 2012. He is the first black sheriff in Chester County. He defeated former sheriff Richard Smith in 2012 and again in 2016.
Underwood found national recognition after taking a Pennsylvania boy on a hunting trip in 2014. The boy wrote to the Chester County Sheriff’s Office – in Pennsylvania – asking to be picked for Underwood’s hunting and fishing trip with children.
Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Chester County, South Carolina, officers worked together to bring the 9-year-old boy to South Carolina to hunt with Underwood.