Chester County Sheriff, Lieutenant, and Chief Deputy Indicted on Federal Charges
Indictment Alleges Officers Conspired to Cover Up Unlawful Arrest and Excessive Use of Force
Columbia, South Carolina --- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that 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.”
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.
Underwood then followed K.S. onto his porch, lunged out to grab and restrain K.S. by his torso, and demanded that K.S. turn over his cellphone. After restraining K.S., Underwood stated that he was attempting to place K.S. under arrest. Neal placed K.S. in handcuffs and escorted him to a vehicle for transport to the detention center. In doing so, Neal knocked K.S. to the ground while K.S. was restrained in handcuffs, injuring K.S.’s head and elbow. Neal then directed the transport office to place a “hold” on K.S., causing him to be held in jail for three nights.
Underwood and Sprouse learned that K.S. had live-streamed the video from his cellphone onto the Internet. Underwood and Sprouse then announced that a radio had been lost during the seizure of K.S. Sprouse and Neal then directed subordinate deputies to draft a search warrant that would allow them to enter K.S’s home. Sprouse entered K.S.’s home without a warrant, searching for the cellphone. He directed a subordinate deputy to dial a phone number in an effort to identify the target phone by making it ring. Sprouse ultimately removed a cellphone from K.S’s home without consent. Sprouse then delivered that phone to a Sheriff’s deputy in charge of evidence collection.
In January 2019, Sprouse and Neal created an incident report containing false statements about K.S.’s seizure, and Underwood and Sprouse created and signed a disciplinary report shifting the blame to the deputy in charge of evidence collection for taking the phone following the seizure of K.S. Also in January 2019, Underwood and Sprouse made false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concerning the seizure of K.S. and the cellphone.
This Count carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
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.
“We will never shy away from bringing these types of cases,” continued U.S. Attorney Lydon. “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.”
“It is paramount that law enforcement maintain the trust of the public which it serves,” said Jody Norris, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI. “These charges are a reminder that nobody is above the law. We will continue to aggressively investigate allegations of law enforcement misconduct, and we are grateful to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for their assistance in this case.”
Underwood, Neal, and Sprouse will make their initial appearances at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, at the Matthew J. Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia.
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.
U.S. Attorney Lydon stated that all charges in the Indictment are merely accusations and that the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.