Despite suspension, Underwood running for Chester sheriff

CHESTER COUNTY – As it stands right now, Chester County voters will decide between the currently-suspended sheriff and his governor-appointed replacement in November.

Alex Underwood

Filing for local elections closed Monday at noon, and just eight minutes before the deadline, Alex Underwood filed to run for sheriff as a Democrat. Underwood was first elected office in 2012 as a petition candidate then won reelection by a wide margin in 2016. Last May, however, he was suspended from office by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster after being indicted on counts related to conspiracy to cover up an unlawful arrest and an excessive use of force. Those charges stemmed from the arrest of Kevin Simpson in Fort Lawn in November of 2018. After allegedly illegally arresting Simpson, indictments say Underwood (along with deputies Robert Sprouse and Johnny Neal, who were also indicted) later deduced that Simpson had live-streamed the arrest. At that point, they announced a radio had been lost during the arrest, entered Simpson’s home without a warrant, took his cell phone and attempted to tamper with it. An incident report, written weeks after the arrest, indicated Simpson had entered the road and loudly cursed at officers, which was not evident on the half-hour-long video he shot, which remains online. Simpson spent parts of four days in jail for charges of public disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Other inmates at the Chester County Detention Center booked the same day or a day after on somewhat similar charges bonded out in less than 24 hours. Charges against Simpson and his mother (who was arrested later that same night) were ultimately dropped by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson. Indictments for Underwood, Sprouse and Neal in connection with the Simpson arrest ranged from creating a false incident report, to violating Simpson’s rights and causing him bodily injury, to lying to federal investigators and evidence tampering. The three were allowed remain free on a personal recognizance bond on those charges. The three men then faced a second round of federal indictments alleging used their positions as law enforcement officers to intimidate others, took “family members on trips (while) charging the cost to the sheriff’s office,” directed “payments for contracted security detail services through a particular sheriff’s office bank account to avoid tax payment,” used “sheriff’s office employees to conduct manual labor that personally benefitted…Underwood while the employees were actively working for the sheriff’s office” and “establishing a climate of fear within the sheriff’s office to direct and secure obedience among subordinates.” Underwood was also indicted by a state grand jury on 10 charges. Four of those counts relate to having on-duty deputies build a “party barn” on Underwood’s private property. Four of the counts (additional charges of criminal conspiracy, embezzlement, misconduct in office and one count of forgery) are related to Underwood and Sprouse having taken their spouses to a sheriff’s convention in Reno, Nevada in 2017. The trip was paid for with public funds. The other two charges (additional counts of misconduct in office and use of official position or office for financial gain) deal with money paid by outside entities for security work by off-duty deputies. That involved having money paid directly to the detention center for such work instead of to the county itself. The money would then be paid with no withholdings taken out. It is additionally alleged that Underwood actually paid himself for security work done by his deputies.

According to state law, there is currently nothing to keep Underwood from filing for office. According to the South Carolina Code of Laws an individual may not run for sheriff if they “have…been convicted of or pled guilty to a violation of Section 56-1-460 or 56-5-2930, or both, within the past ten years or a felony in this State or another state; (or) have…been convicted of or pled guilty to a felony or a crime of moral turpitude in this State or another state.” Underwood’s trial was to have begun in April but a filing by his attorney seeking a continuation was granted, moving the proceedings back until at least August.

Donald “Max” Dorsey, a former SLED narcotics agent and Chester native, was appointed interim sheriff by McMaster in the aftermath of Underwood’s suspension from office. He has filed to seek the office on a full-time basis and will run as a Republican.

“As Sheriff, I believe it is my job to equip our law enforcement officers to serve the community efficiently, effectively, and professionally. This campaign is focused on uniting our community and setting new goals for our agency,” said Dorsey in a release announcing his run. “I began my career in law enforcement at a young age working with SLED, and I immediately became concerned to see the lives around me so deeply affected by the drug crisis. I have worked for more than 20 years with law enforcement officers, policymakers, and rehabilitation counselors to reduce the impact illegal drugs have on communities throughout South Carolina. I want to now bring those resources and that experience to Chester County, and move us in a new direction that’s based on a new vision.”

Underwood and Dorsey were the only two filers for sheriff.

This article was reprinted with permission from Chester News and Reporter.