CHESTER, S.C. — A heated roadside disagreement turned physical between two Chester County firefighters and the sheriff and his deputies at the scene of a traffic accident in February, Highway Patrol dash camera footage obtained by The Herald shows.
The incident stemmed from a disagreement about traffic control following the Feb. 14 accident on S.C. 9, about 10 miles west of Chester. After the scuffle, two volunteer firefighters — West Chester Chief Andy Martin, 57, and his brother, Tommy Martin, 61 — spent a night in jail on assault charges.
The fracas started after firefighters and law enforcement agencies responded to the accident scene, where a tractor trailer had run off the road in the afternoon.
Andy Martin, who claimed to be the incident commander, wanted S.C. 9 closed to traffic during the cleanup. When sheriff’s deputies and state troopers wouldn’t close the road, Andy Martin used his emergency radio to make comments about the 2016 election – when Sheriff Alex Underwood would be up for re-election.
A short while later, Underwood and several of his top deputies arrived at the scene.
Video from two Highway Patrol vehicles shows the Martin brothers speaking with Underwood and the deputies. Although there is no audio with extended sections of the videos, it appears they are having an argument, with Underwood, the deputies and the Martins leaning forward as they speak, gesturing and pointing.
About eight minutes after Underwood arrived, the video shows him stepping forward, so that he is less than two feet from Andy Martin. Underwood points and Andy Martin takes a step back and crosses his arms. Andy Martin then steps back as two other men step up to stand next to him.
Tommy Martin, meanwhile, moves next to his brother. Just a few seconds later, Andy Martin is shoved aside by one of the other two men. It’s unclear who that man is or with what agency he is affiliated.
Tommy Martin then puts his hands on Underwood.
The police report states that Tommy Martin “pushed Sheriff Underwood with his right arm.”
In the video, the same man that pushed Andy Martin then pushes Tommy Martin several times, causing him to bump into Andy Martin.
Tommy Martin then pushes that man back and they begin to scuffle. Andy Martin also moves forward into the tussle, but another man grabs him. Three of the four men appear to slip on the snow and ice on the ground and Underwood and several other men move in to assist.
Andy Martin gets off the ground and is held back, while Tommy Martin and several other men move behind a car. It’s unclear what happens behind the car, but when they appear again, Tommy Martin is on his feet, being held in place by two men while continuing to move around.
Andy Martin steps forward and picks up an unidentified object off the ground and reaches out to hand it to someone. But a man — apparently the one who earlier shoved Andy Martin aside — walks toward him and pushes him back, and a second round of struggling begins.
Audio Picks Up At That Point On The Video
The man appears to go behind Andy Martin and wrestle him to the ground. Someone yells, “Put your hands behind your back.”
Andy Martin is put in handcuffs and someone can be heard saying, “This ain’t got nothing to do with 911; we’ve got a wreck out here.”
The comment is an apparent reference to an ongoing dispute between the sheriff’s office and Chester County officials, according to the police report. Underwood is fighting the Chester County Council’s effort to transfer control of the 911 emergency dispatch system from the sheriff’s office to County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey.
A few minutes later, both Martin brothers are walking around, although Andy Martin is still in handcuffs.
“It’s a bad day in Chester,” someone says. “I’ve been on the fire department 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Eventually, Tommy Martin left the scene and Andy Martin went back to helping clean up. A day later, on Feb. 15, both brothers were arrested at their homes and jailed overnight.
Dan D’Agostino, the attorney for the Martins, declined to comment on the video Saturday because he hadn’t seen it.
The Herald obtained the video through a Freedom on Information Act request filed with the state Department of Public Safety.
Chester County’s fire chiefs asked the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether Underwood and his deputies committed misconduct by interfering with firefighters at the scene. The Attorney General’s Office asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate, as did Underwood.
Underwood has not said why he asked for a SLED investigation. In February, he told The Herald that the Sheriff’s Office’s job was to assist other agencies at an accident scene, not to act as the agency in charge.
Underwood could not be reached for comment Saturday, but in February, he said assaulting a police officer will never be tolerated.
“The law applies to everyone, regardless of who you are or what profession you are in,” he said then.
The Martin brothers had been scheduled to appear in court last week on the assault charges, but the trial was postponed because of the ongoing SLED investigation. No new trial date has been set.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 The Herald