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State probe delays trial of SC firefighters involved in police brawl

Firefighters were arrested Feb. 14 after deputies allege both men assaulted Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood and a sheriff's captain at the scene of a crash

By Andrew Dys
The Herald

CHESTER  The trial of two Chester County volunteer firefighters accused of assaulting sheriff's deputies at a crash scene last month has been postponed because prosecutors want state agents to finish an investigation into the scuffle.

The state Attorney General's Office, brought in to handle the controversial case, asked for the delay of the March 11 trial to allow the State Law Enforcement Division to finish its probe, according to the Chester County magistrate's office.

Chief Magistrate Dianne Moore granted the postponement, but no new trial date has been set.

West Chester Fire Chief Andy Martin, 57, and his brother, Tommy Martin, 61, were arrested Feb. 14 after deputies allege both men assaulted Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood and a sheriff's captain at the scene of a crash on S.C. 9 about 10 miles west of Chester. Both were charged with assault, and Andy Martin also was charged with disorderly conduct.

Martin was handcuffed at the scene for 10 minutes, but both men were not arrested until more than a day later. They spent a night in jail because no magistrate was available to set bond.

The arrests outraged Chester County's other fire chiefs, who asked Attorney General Alan Wilson to order a SLED investigation into Underwood's handling of the case. Underwood, who has said he and his deputies acted correctly, also asked Wilson to bring in SLED.

There is no timetable for any actions by prosecutors, said Mark Powell, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office. SLED agents have interviewed witnesses in the case, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said, but no deadline has been set for when the investigation will be finished.

"Our agents are reviewing whatever evidence has been submitted," Berry said. "When it is finished, we will submit the case file back to the Attorney General's Office."

Andy Martin, the incident commander at the crash scene, wanted deputies to close the road. After deputies and a state trooper refused, Martin spoke on his emergency radio, mentioning the 2016 election, when Underwood would next be up for re-election.

Underwood and top deputies responded to the scene, and an argument followed. Arrest warrants and a police report allege that Tommy Martin launched a tirade of profanity against officers, then pushed Underwood and a sheriff's captain. Andy Martin was belligerent when deputies tried to remove him from the scene, those documents show.

SLED is reviewing dash-cam video from the state trooper's vehicle, Berry said.

The Chester County Fire Chiefs Association is standing unanimously behind the Martins and have criticized Underwood's handling of the incident. John Agee, the group's chairman, declined to comment Friday on the trial's postponement.

The fire chiefs group has given documents to the Attorney General's Office stating the fire department is in charge at a crash scene under state law. The fire chiefs claim fire officials can prohibit anyone from being at a crash scene and can remove anyone who interferes with the emergency operation.

Efforts to reach Underwood for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

The lawyer for the Martins, Dan D'Agostino of York, could not be reached for comment Friday. He has said the arrests never should have happened, and that Underwood picked the wrong time and place for a discussion about policy at crash scenes.

Copyright 2014 The Herald 


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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