Andrew Dys

Former deputy suing sheriff over alleged sex: Victim or blackmailer?

Chester sheriff faces sex accusations in court

Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood is in court this week facing allegations from former deputy Mary Anne Tolbert that he coerced sex. Underwood calls the claims false. Here are excerpts from opening statements.
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Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood is in court this week facing allegations from former deputy Mary Anne Tolbert that he coerced sex. Underwood calls the claims false. Here are excerpts from opening statements.

In a courtroom Tuesday – where the Chester County sheriff is the top law enforcement officer for 33,000 residents and a former deputy is accusing the sheriff in a civil lawsuit of forced sex and retaliation – the words “sex” and “money” dominated the day, as the accuser claimed she was raped and then was accused of blackmail,

On the second day of the trial, it all centered on the testimony of the accuser: Mary Anne Tolbert, 42, married, a former deputy who wanted to rise through the ranks. A woman who with little emotion spent hours talking of graphic sex and sex acts, whom the sheriff claims filed the lawsuit to try to smear him after she was denied the second in command job at the sheriff’s office.

Tolbert even admitted on the stand of her allegations of rape: “It’s hard to believe.”

What matters now after a grueling day of testimony from Tolbert is whether the 12 jurors who listened to all the lewd and lascivious allegations believe her story of at least 18 liaisons of forced sex with Underwood because Tolbert feared for her job, or that Tolbert is a golddigging malcontent.

Underwood and his lawyers not only deny all of Tolbert’s claims of forced sex, the lawyers accused Tolbert of making secret recordings, not seeking a formal state police investigation, and then filing a lawsuit in an attempt to seek retribution after Underwood chose someone else as chief deputy.

As to why Tolbert had no witnesses to 18 alleged sexual encounters, or told anyone until months later about the allegations and refused to sign a written formal order seeking state agents to begin an investigation, Underwood’s lawyer Daniel Plyler asked her: ‘You didn’t plan on blackmailing the sheriff, right?”

Tuesday morning, Tolbert was asked hours of questions from her lead lawyer, Janet Rhode. Tolbert claimed that she and Underwood had a consensual sexual relationship over a decade ago that ended with them friends. “Friends with benefits” is how Tolbert described the time when neither one was married, although she said she was ashamed to say so.

However, after Underwood was elected in 2012, Tolbert detailed at least 18 alleged sexual trysts at a golf course, a park, a hunt club, the townhome of another woman and even Underwood’s house and the home of Chester’s former police chief. The details were salacious and vivid: Tolbert was asked to describe the how, the when, and other intimate details that she testified happened. She claimed that she felt “dirty,” “ashamed” and “like a prostitute.”

However, she claimed that she kept telling Underwood “no,” but he insisted, and that she went through with sex for eight months because she feared she would be fired if she stopped.

“He was my boss ... you don’t want to be on his bad side,” Tolbert testified.

Tolbert said she finally “took a stand” and ended the sex in late 2013, but didn’t say something before because she was a cop and “didn’t want people to see me as weak.”

She repeatedly testified that she feared for her job if she did not comply.

Asked if she felt safe in Chester County anymore where she still works as an EMT, and a county where all 12 jurors live, Tolbert who lives in Fairfield County, testified: “I work in Chester, I like the people, but when I hit the county line it makes me sick. I guess I am paranoid, I don’t know if people have my back ... I don’t feel safe.”

Tolbert claims she is not in the lawsuit for money. Yet, Tolbert when cross-examined by Underwood’s lawyers, Tolbert admitted that she did not seek a formal investigation by state agents into her allegations and never filed formal police report.

“What evidence do you have to support these vicious claims against Sheriff Underwood?” one of Underwood’s lawyers, Daniel Plyler, asked Tolbert.

None, Plyler said, and Tolbert has no witnesses. She claimed that Underwood “took with him” sexual evidence from every event.

Underwood’s lawyers say Tolbert has nothing but her own allegations against Underwood that are a smokescreen for wanting money after she was passed over for a promotion.

Tolbert admitted that she was friends with Underwood for years after the initial relationship and even was happy that he won the 2012 sheriff’s election. Underwood promoted Tolbert at least twice during 2013 but the day after she was not chosen chief deputy in 2014 despite applying for the job just days after Underwood was sworn in, Tolbert initiated her first allegation.

“According to your story, your longtime friend who had just promoted you then forced you to have sex?” Underwood lawyer Daniel Plyler asked Tolbert.

“It’s hard to believe,” Tolbert admitted.

“You said it, not me,” Plyler replied.

Asked why she did not seek a formal State Law Enforcement Division investigation into her claims of “rape,” Tolbert said in deposition testimony she just wanted to be left alone, and didn’t want SLED involved because Underwood used to work at SLED.

But Plyler, Underwood’s lawyer shot back: “Instead, you went to the courthouse, and filed a complaint, so that you could come to this jury for money?”

Tolbert answered: “Something like that.”

The trial continues Wednesday, and Underwood is expected to testify.

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