CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. — A South Carolina sheriff and two deputies angered by a man videotaping a police investigation jailed him for three days, created a fake police report, tried to destroy his cellphone and lied to the FBI about it all, according to federal indictments.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, his Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and Sheriff's Lt. Johnny Neal Jr. were charged Tuesday with several counts ranging from civil rights violations to lying to police.
The charges against Underwood and his deputies stemmed from a man videotaping the aftermath of a wreck during a police chase in November. The man, who was filming from the yard of his Fort Lawn home, was Kevin Simpson.
Underwood told Simpson to go back to his porch, but he refused and kept recording for 25 minutes, prosecutors said.
The sheriff then ordered Simpson to his porch again, grabbing him, demanding his cellphone and then saying he was under arrest, according to the indictments.
Underwood and his deputies kept Simpson in jail for three days without a reason, prosecutors said. They added that authorities then lied about a missing police radio to get a warrant to get inside Simpson's home and had a deputy call his number so they could locate his cellphone.
The deputies then created a false police report, which they gave to FBI agents and which said Simpson stepped out of his yard into the public roadway and cursed at police, according to the indictments.
The sheriff and his chief deputy also created a fake discipline report to make it look like another deputy took the cellphone, prosecutors said.
Underwood wanted to destroy the phone even though Simpson livestreamed his footage on Facebook and the sheriff lied about not seeing the cellphone footage for a week when he viewed it within hours, prosecutors said.
(Watch a clip from Simpson's Facebook Live)
FBI documents state Underwood, Neal and Sprouse used their position to intimidate and shifted the blame to cover their backs.
Court records did not list lawyers for Underwood or any of his deputies.
Simpson said he's not surprised at how the case has turned out.
"If it never would have got videoed, he would still be getting away with it," Simpson said.
Simpson was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Those charges were dropped after the indictments were issued.
Simpson's lawyers said the Attorney General has the case and asked for those charges to be dropped.
Simpson’s attorney said Simpson should not have been arrested in the first place.
Underwood, 55, faces up to 51 years in prison if convicted of five charges against him. Sprouse, 44, faces up to 70 years behind bars if convicted of five charges and Neal, 39, faces a maximum sentence of 35 years if convicted on three counts.
Underwood's wife, Angel, is the chief magistrate for Chester County, which has about 32,000 people and is about 60 miles north of Columbia.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order Tuesday suspending Underwood and appointing State Law Enforcement Division Capt. Donald "Max" Dorsey to serve as sheriff. Dorsey is in the agency's narcotics division.
“Today, we announce the worst kind of charges: Allegations of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement,” U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon said in a statement. “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.”
A large crowd gathered at the Chester County Courthouse Wednesday morning as Donald "Max" Dorsey was sworn in as interim sheriff.
"This is a position I never expected to have, and certainly not under these circumstances,” Dorsey said.
He will serve as sheriff until Underwood is convicted or acquitted, until the indictment is disposed of, or until a new sheriff is elected in the next general election.
An emotional Dorsey told Channel 9 he wants to bring the community together and restore trust.
"Love your neighbor as yourself," he said, quoting Scripture. "That's all I'm asking. I will do everything in my power to make this better. All of law enforcement is hurting right now.”
Dorsey resigned his job at SLED where he’s been for 24 years to make a commitment to Chester County, the place where he grew up, went to high school and lives.
"I want the community to know I'm committed to this,” Dorsey said. “I'm committed to this. I'm all in, and I take that responsibility as a sacred honor."
Underwood is the 12th South Carolina sheriff indicted or accused of criminal activity connected to their job in the past decade. South Carolina has 46 counties. Less than two weeks ago, Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone was charged with embezzlement in state court.
Underwood, Neal and Sprouse will have their first court appearances May 21.
Statement from Simpson’s attorney:
“We want to thank the law enforcement professionals that did a thorough job of fully evaluating this situation.
“The facts of this ugly situation are not a typical representation of how the vast majority of law enforcement officers interact with citizens that they have sworn to serve and protect. We are appreciative of law enforcement in general and particularly for those law enforcement agencies that refuse to allow the bad apples to survive in the greatest justice system in the world.
“The FBI and the US Attorney’s office here in South Carolina have acted like true professionals, and we feel confident that the wheels of justice will continue to turn for Mr. Simpson and his family.”
© 2020 Associated Press