Like many in northern South Carolina, maybe you noticed on May 9 when charges were dropped against a Chester County man. “Vindicated,” announced a local headline.
Dropped charges are not unheard of, at least for clients represented by experienced defense attorneys. What really caught our attention are the allegations against the arresting officers, including the now-former county sheriff, Alex Underwood.
Following an FBI search of Underwood’s office, he and two deputies were formally indicted on federal charges of police misconduct and conspiracy to cover up their crimes.
Innocent man jailed, FBI visits the sheriff
A young man, apparently within his rights, used social media to broadcast the site of a car crash and the work of county sheriff personnel.
Sheriff Underwood then confronted the man. According to the federal indictment, Underwood and two deputies used excessive force to arrest the man, leaving him in jail for 3 nights and 4 days.
They then allegedly made up a false story to justify searching his home and seizing his cell phone, eventually lying to FBI about it.
The 8-count indictment includes illegal search and seizure, excessive force, tampering with evidence, and falsifying records.
Long-term problems for South Carolina and the wrongfully arrested
Underwood became at least the 11th county sheriff to have been indicted or convicted of crimes in the last decade in South Carolina.
Some have called for a wider appraisal of the state’s law enforcement, with the Post-Courier publishing a feature that paints a dire portrait of corruption among the some of the state’s county sheriff departments.
Meanwhile, “this whole thing could have been avoided,” the exonerated man said. He may have meant, among other things, suffering physical injuries behind bars for days as an innocent man with no charges and no counsel.
The personal effects of such experiences can last a lifetime. Because of his high-profile exoneration, he might escape the mark that convictions or simply arrests can leave on a life.
These can include obstacles to employment, housing, professional licenses, gun ownership, or fair immigration status.