South Carolina

SC man sues indicted sheriff, alleging officers strangled him and tried to cover it up

Suspended Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood and other law enforcement officers have been sued by a Chester man who claims he was strangled after officers beat him during a false arrest.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Chester County civil court by Tracy Mobley, states that in 2016 Underwood and other deputies and police officers attacked Mobley at his Ridgeview Road property.

The lawsuit is not related to criminal charges filed earlier this year against Underwood from a 2018 case.

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In a pending criminal case, Underwood and two deputies are accused of illegally arresting another man after that person broadcast a cellphone video on Facebook Live in November 2018. The video showed a confrontation with Underwood near a vehicle crash site, court documents show. Underwood then set in motion what is described as an illegal plan to confiscate the phone and video, then arrest the man and his mother, according to the FBI and federal prosecutors. Charges against the man and his mother were later dismissed by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.

Underwood, through his lawyer, Stanley Myers, has denied all criminal allegations against him in the pending federal case.

Underwood, elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, remains out of office. He was suspended May 7 by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster.

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The more recently-filed civil lawsuit names Underwood and officers Matthew Faile, David Ford, Terry Brian Sanders, Burly McDaniel, Chris Skidmore, John Joas, and cites other unknown officers, as defendants. The lawsuit describes the actions as “terrorizing, intentional, and illegal.”

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, but declined comment on the specifics of the lawsuit allegations.

“The county has been made aware of the lawsuit but has not been served an official copy,” Winters said. “When we receive the suit, we will address it and respond accordingly.”

The lawsuit states that officers from the sheriff’s department and Chester police department were going through woods at night near Mobley’s home on Oct. 6. 2016 with flashlights and refused to identify themselves before Mobley fired a warning shot into the air because he was concerned about trespassers, said Ian Duggan and Richard Detwiler, two Columbia lawyers representing Mobley.

The officers came toward the property without identifying themselves, Duggan and Detwiler said.

The warning shot came after Mobley, while on his property, called out several times to the people with flashlights to identify themselves, the lawsuit states. Mobley saw the officers’ badges as the officers approached, then held the gun at his side with the barrel facing down, the lawsuit states.

“The individual defendants sprang upon Mr. Mobley,” the lawsuit states. “At no time did Mr. Mobley attempt to resist the officers.”

The officers then beat and kicked Mobley while he lay on a pile of scrap metal, the lawsuit states. After Mobley was put in a police car, Underwood strangled Mobley and threatened Mobley and his wife, according to the lawsuit and Mobley’s lawyers.

Mobley was arrested on charges of assault, pointing and presenting a firearm, and use of firearms while under the influence of alcohol, records show.

Mobley later completed a court-sanctioned pretrial intervention program concerning the charges, the lawsuit and lawyers said.

The lawsuit claims that law enforcement reports of the incident were untrue and the result of a conspiracy to cover up the beating and false arrest.

“The defendants conspired together, with the imprimatur of defendant Underwood, to author police reports and other statements related to this incident containing misleading and false information about Mr. Mobley’s actions,” the suit states.

The suit asks for punitive and and actual damages for illegal battery, false arrest, malicious prosecution, trespass, use of excessive force, and conspiracy to violate Mobley’s civil rights.

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