Prosecutors: Sheriff lied to FBI about jailing innocent man
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina sheriff and two deputies angered by someone videotaping a police investigation jailed the man for three days, created a fake police report, took his cellphone and tried to destroy it and lied to the FBI, 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.
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.
The charges against Underwood and his deputies stemmed from a man videotaping the aftermath of a wreck after a police chase in November. The man, who was filming from the yard of his Fort Lawn home, was identified in court papers only by his initials.
Underwood told the man to go back to his porch. The man refused and kept recording for 25 minutes, prosecutors said.
The sheriff then ordered the man 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 the man 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 the man’s home and had a deputy call the man’s number so they could locate his cellphone.
The deputies then created a false police report, which they gave to FBI agents and which said the man 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 the man 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.
Court records did not list lawyers for Underwood or any of his deputies.
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 (95 kilometers) north of Columbia.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster suspended Underwood and appointed State Law Enforcement Division Capt. Donald “Max” Dorsey to serve as sheriff. Dorsey is in the agency’s narcotics division.