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SC county sheriff, others indicted on federal charges, accused of excessive force ‘cover-up,’ district attorney says

Updated: May. 8, 2019 at 8:04 AM EDT
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CHESTER COUNTY, SC (WIS) - U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Sherri Lydon announced the indictment of the Chester County sheriff, lieutenant, and chief deputy on federal charges that the trio allegedly conspired to cover up an unlawful arrest and excessive use for force.

Chester County Sheriff George Alexander “Big A” Underwood, 55, of Chester; Chester County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Johnny Ricardo Neal, Jr., 39, of Lancaster; and Chester County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Robert Andrew Sprouse, 44, of Chester, were indicted in federal court on an eight-count indictment related to a conspiracy to cover up an unlawful arrest and an excessive use of force.

“Today, we announce the worst kind of charges: Allegations of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Lydon. “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.”

Underwood, Neal, and Sprouse will make their initial appearances at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, at the Matthew J. Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia.

“We will never shy away from bringing these types of cases,” Lydon said. “We will work day in and day out to make sure our citizens in Chester and across South Carolina can have confidence in their public servants, their government, and certainly their police officers.”

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Alyssa Leigh Richardson and William Camden Lewis of the Columbia office.

Lydon stated that all charges in the indictment are merely accusations and that the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

In response to the indictment, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster suspended the three men, per executive order, and appointed Donald “Max” Dorsey to serve as sheriff until Underwood is acquitted, convicted, the indictment is otherwise disposed of, or until a sheriff is elected and qualifies in the next general election.

Dorsey currently serves as the Captain of the State Law Enforcement Division’s Narcotics Division.

Here is the following counts:

  • Count One of the Indictment alleges that on November 20, 2018, law enforcement personnel from Chester County Sheriff’s Office, including Underwood, Neal, and Sprouse, responded to a car accident and fleeing suspect in Fort Lawn. A resident living nearby, identified in the Indictment as K.S., used his cellphone to live-stream the law enforcement activity. Underwood asked K.S. to stay on his porch, but K.S. remained in his yard. Underwood returned 25 minutes later, directing K.S. to retreat to his porch.
  • Count Two alleges that Underwood violated K.S.’s rights while acting under color of law by seizing K.S. without probable cause to believe K.S. committed a crime, causing him to be detained in jail for three nights. This Count carries a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison.
  • Count Three alleges that Neal violated K.S.’s rights while acting under color of law by knocking K.S. to the ground while he was handcuffed, resulting in bodily injury to K.S. This Count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
  • Count Four alleges that Underwood and Sprouse tampered with the cellphone, attempting to alter, destroy, or conceal it with the intent to impair its integrity or availability for use in the federal case involving the deprivation of K.S.’s rights. This Count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
  • Count Five alleges that Neal and Sprouse falsified a record with the intent to impede a federal investigation by creating a false incident report indicating that K.S. repeatedly left his yard to enter the roadway and that K.S. directed profane language toward them – when in fact K.S. did neither – and caused that report to go to the FBI. This Count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
  • Count Six alleges that Underwood and Sprouse falsified a record with the intent to impede a federal investigation by creating and signing a disciplinary report shifting blame to the deputy in charge of evidence collection for taking the cellphone following K.S.’s seizure, and caused that report to go to the FBI. This Count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
  • Count Seven alleges that Underwood made a false statement to the FBI on May 3, 2019, representing that he first viewed K.S.’s video recording about a week after the incident, when in fact he viewed the recording on the date of the incident. This Count carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
  • Count Eight alleges that Sprouse made a false statement to the FBI on January 8, 2019, representing that he did not know how a cellphone was removed from K.S.’s home, when in fact he removed the phone. This Count carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

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