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S.C. fire chief arrested after scuffle with cops at crash scene

Police allege the chief and his brother yelled obscenities at a sheriff and other officers; they were both charged with assault

The Herald

CHESTER, S.C. — The West Chester Volunteer Fire Department chief and his brother spent Saturday night in the Chester County jail after being arrested by sheriff’s deputies following a scuffle with the sheriff and other officers at the scene of an overturned truck Friday afternoon.

Police allege the firefighters yelled obscenities at Sheriff Alex Underwood and other officers and pushed them in a dispute over traffic control at the crash scene on S.C. 9 west of Chester.

Chief Andy Martin, 57, and volunteer firefighter Tommy Martin, 61, were charged with assault. They were arrested at their homes at about 8 p.m. Saturday, kept in jail overnight and released on personal recognizance bonds after appearing before Magistrate Dianne Moore Sunday morning, police and court records show.

The altercation over whether the highway should have been closed and who was in charge has both sides pointing fingers at the other for how the situation was handled.

The ongoing court battle over control of Chester County’s 911 dispatch system an a sheriff’s election that’s still two years away also have been brought up as elements in the scuffle.

Underwood says both Andy Martin and Tommy Martin, who each have more than 40 years experience as volunteer firefighters, assaulted him and a deputy as they tried to control the situation.

“Assaulting a police officer will never be tolerated,” Underwood said Monday. “The law applies to everyone, regardless of who you are or what profession you are in.

“It is unfortunate that some people think they are entitled to special treatment or think that they are above the law.”

Andy Martin told The Herald on Monday that he was upset that he had been arrested. He called the way the incident was handled by the Sheriff’s Office “a fiasco” and “a shame.”

“I have volunteered out here for 40 years,” Andy Martin said. “I was the incident commander. I have devoted my whole adult life to the fire service.”

Andy Martin said deputies treated him “like a hardened criminal.” Underwood and his deputies “overstepped their bounds,” he said, first by handcuffing for 10 minutes him at the crash scene, then by arresting him at his home a day later. He said he has talked to a lawyer but has not yet hired one.

Efforts to reach Tommy Martin were unsuccessful Monday. His wife declined to comment.

Arrest warrants against Tommy Martin allege he pushed Underwood, then pushed and tried to tackle Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Sprouse. The warrants say he was not acting in self defense. He was charged with two counts of assault.

Arrest warrants against Andy Martin allege he was “acting in a disorderly manner,” and pushed Capt. Sprouse as deputies attempted to remove him from the wreck scene. He was charged with assault and disorderly conduct.

‘Fight and struggle’
The incident began after a tractor-trailer skidded off the side of S.C. 9 near Turnbuckle Road just before 4 p.m. Friday.

Sheriff’s deputies who initially went to the scene left after Highway Patrol troopers said the highway would not be closed until a wrecker arrived to move the truck.

Underwood and several of his senior deputies arrived at the scene at about 4:15 p.m. and a conversation about who would direct traffic and when the highway should be closed took place.

Sheriff’s officials said that, as they explained why the first deputies had left the scene, Tommy Martin and Andy Martin instigated an argument when they “came up and began to complain,” because they had wanted the deputies to stay and close the road.

“At this time,” the report reads, “Thomas Martin became angry with Maj. (Randy) Marsh, and the talking became very heated.”

The firefighters then brought up the ongoing court battle between Chester County and the Sheriff’s Office over control of emergency 911 dispatch, the report states, and Andy Martin made statements about “election time.” Underwood, elected sheriff in 2012, will be up for election again in 2016.

Andy Martin acknowledged to The Herald that he also had made a statement about the upcoming election after the deputies who first responded to the accident had left the scene, but before Underwood arrived.

“I do not deny saying it,” Andy Martin said. “I am the one who said it.”

The incident “was becoming heated,” the report states, and after a state trooper told the firefighters again that the road would be shut down only when a wrecker arrived, Tommy Martin “pushed Sheriff Underwood with his right arm.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Sprouse moved between Tommy Martin and Underwood, the report states, then Martin “began to fight and struggle” with Sprouse, grabbing the captain’s leg after falling to his knees.

Sprouse yelled at Martin to calm down, the report states, then Underwood and Sheriff’s Capt. James Darby “had to grab Thomas Martin and pull him off Captain Sprouse’s leg.”

At one point, according to the report, Tommy Martin yelled, “F--- the police, put me in jail!”

Andy Martin then yelled obscenities at police, the report states, and deputies restrained him after he “began to fight by pushing and pulling and did not comply with verbal commands,” so deputies handcuffed him.

Arrest warrants against Andy Martin allege he was “acting in a disorderly manner,” and pushed Capt. Robert Sprouse as deputies attempted to remove him from the wreck scene.

Both firefighters were placed in the back of an emergency management vehicle “to calm down,” the report states. Once they did calm down, the report states, Tommy Martin left the scene, but Andy Martin put on his firefighting gear and “started back working on getting the wreck cleared.”

‘Shouldn’t have happened’
Over the weekend and on Monday, the story of the scuffle between firefighters and deputies spread through the community and among other officials slowly, by word of mouth and social media.

County Councilman John Wayne Holcombe, whose district includes the incident location, said he had heard about the incident through others.

“What I’m hearing really shouldn’t have happened,” said Holcombe, a former Chester County sheriff, “but we know it did.”

He said he was not aware of any ongoing dispute between the fire department and the sheriff’s office, and he didn’t know what had started the dispute.

Eddie Murphy, Chester County’s emergency management coordinator, said he was on the scene but did not see what happened.

In a situation like Friday’s crash, a “joint command” typically would be established among the agencies responding to the incident, Murphy said, then instructions would go out from that joint command. Reducing all those leaders down to a single force can be difficult, he said.

“It is the hardest thing to get people to take time out,” Murphy said, “because everyone wants to put their hands on it.”

Copyright 2014 The Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

All Rights Reserved

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Claude Kerley Claude Kerley Tuesday, February 18, 2014 9:54:45 AM So the sheriff and his deputies left the scene and came back when the fire department arrived on scene, and was State still there? It is up to the Incident Commander as to scene safety and scene management while the fire department is working on the incident, not the State, not the Police, and not the Sheriff.
David Smith David Smith Tuesday, February 18, 2014 10:13:18 AM If the road wasn't blocked, which clearly was indicated by the State and the SO, there's no need to be directing traffic until the wrecker arrives and needs to use the lanes to pull the truck free. Sounds like a firefighter with a burr under his saddle.
John Lefler Sr. John Lefler Sr. Tuesday, February 18, 2014 10:15:23 AM If the Sheriff's Dept. was in charge and there was no fire hazard, I would return my crews to the station.
Robert Brooks Robert Brooks Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:13:30 AM Sounds like a "Hatfield & McCoy" situation.
Landen Schooler Landen Schooler Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:36:08 AM They better hope there is never a fire at the sheriff''s office......
Allen John Cameron Allen John Cameron Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:54:36 AM It is unclear to me what objective the fire department was working to achieve at this point. I don't see anything about a rescue being in progress. Was there a concern about materials or fuel being released? Why was the fire department operating on this scene when the conflict occurred?
Robert Fenton Robert Fenton Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:59:11 AM Unfortunately as long as there was no fire or entrapments the law enforcement has command of any scene on public roadways. As professionals they should have worked it out together, not like little children. Very unprofessional on both sides. But we all know the the law always provales in court
Dave McAlister Dave McAlister Tuesday, February 18, 2014 12:01:54 PM Calif. last week, SC this week. sound like the fire dept's, and police dept's all over the USA need to have a sit down and figure out who is in charge. and really the bottom line question is why would an officer think it is ok to interfere with an active call? that should have all been done after the call was completed. to top it all off if the patient had been removed and there was not a fire the fire dept should have cleared the scene.
Dan Rosecrans Dan Rosecrans Tuesday, February 18, 2014 12:16:25 PM The police always think they are in charge at an accident scene and they know best. The fire service should just leave and let them be in charge and treat any injuries or put out the fires. Just wait until they get slammed by an 18 wheeler out of control see how their family deals with them being dead. More firefighters die in this country every year from their profession than police.
Dale Doucet Dale Doucet Tuesday, February 18, 2014 1:37:54 PM This is a third grade playground statement.
Bob Rhoades Bob Rhoades Tuesday, February 18, 2014 1:43:58 PM Mayberry is alive! What does state law say about who's in charge, if anything ? What about ICS? Happens all the time, cops want FFs to get run over!
Budd Dunson Budd Dunson Tuesday, February 18, 2014 1:58:15 PM it never fails that LEOs think they are in charge of everything I have had an LEO providing aid to a victim ordered away and told to direct traffic.
Lloyd Denny Lloyd Denny Tuesday, February 18, 2014 2:41:52 PM Both are there to protect the public and each other. This is a situation that never should have gotten out of control. Shame on everyone! Work together because some ay you may need each other.
Brian John Brian John Tuesday, February 18, 2014 3:08:45 PM Typical vollys stop being buffs!!!
Raymond Haring Raymond Haring Tuesday, February 18, 2014 3:49:56 PM So sad for all involved. There is a safety concern with fuel and that in most states is Fire hazard however when you send traffic another way there tends to be more accidents also. Law Enforcement is responsible, in most states for traffic control and investigation but Safety is Fire responsibility (tough one) cooler heads should work together. If a wrecker driver gets killed because traffic was moving through who gets dragged into court, (both) and it is a matter of which one pays the most to the injured party. Both are supposed to prevent that not argue about it. Shame, shame, shame. Grow up and do your jobs which from time to time require you working together to the benefit of all.
Brian Kelly Brian Kelly Tuesday, February 18, 2014 4:20:19 PM I know in Missouri fire is in command of the scene until they release it
Dave Smith Dave Smith Tuesday, February 18, 2014 4:40:58 PM Negative. In most states, Fire is in command at ANY accident scene until they clear the scene. Law enforcement is there to investigate and make sure evidence is protected.
Tom Kelly Tom Kelly Tuesday, February 18, 2014 4:43:54 PM No matter how you want to dice this up the question remains the same as before, where is the respect among emergency responders?
Don Crane Don Crane Tuesday, February 18, 2014 5:05:58 PM Another incident of A police officer going WAY TOO far.
Steve Kady Steve Kady Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7:17:45 PM Why does this continue to happen. Why isn't there a law for Federal Highways, State Highways, and County roads as to who is in charge? This is just stupid that people are trying help and they get arrested. What a bunch of idiots on both sides.
Chuck Hein Chuck Hein Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7:52:08 PM Think Ohio law says fire chief has jurisdiction priority at fires and accidents.
Michael Rush Michael Rush Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7:52:24 PM fire was toned out we own the scene depending on life safety and other factors its what we feel is the best call to make at the time not the state,dpw or police,
Dean Fryda Dean Fryda Tuesday, February 18, 2014 8:47:36 PM I'm so glad that in our county we have monthly Chief's meetings. All the fire Chief's in our county attend along with representatives from dispatch and the Sheriff's office. We really have a great system and everyone works great with each other. It's also been made very clear that Fire in control of the scene and the Sheriff's office will help us out in any way they can, but in the same token, we train with them and we try our best to minimize the time we have lanes shut down, especially on I94 and Hwy 50 and we do everything we can to preserve evidence for our brothers in brown.
Kevin Lloyd Kevin Lloyd Tuesday, February 18, 2014 10:56:36 PM This seems to be happening more and more frequently. I don't know about SC laws but here the incident commander has control of the scene until he deems it safe. It seems to me that many police around the country are not understanding that their role on highway incidents is a supportive role, not incident command. I realize that they are used to being in control on many of their calls, but scene safety on vehicle accidents correctly falls on the fire department's shoulders, not police.
Larry Rossi Larry Rossi Wednesday, February 19, 2014 3:45:45 AM Agreed. No fire danger, no life)safety danger to the public...I'm returning my crews. Let the PD take care of it.
Kevin Lloyd Kevin Lloyd Wednesday, February 19, 2014 5:41:38 AM ...BUT it never should have gotten physical.
Wyley Daughtry Wyley Daughtry Wednesday, February 19, 2014 6:08:30 AM I will never understand why pd officers or troopers put moving traffic along as more important that personnel safety. To busy wanting too prove who's in charge rather than taking care of the injured or scene safety.
Greg Boivin Greg Boivin Wednesday, February 19, 2014 6:30:10 AM Laws are different from state to state Robert. In CT, Fire has control of any scene we are called to--period. Our State Police don't like it many times--but the law is the law!
Holy Moly Holy Moly Wednesday, February 19, 2014 7:16:12 AM relax, i'm sure its only all that powdered sugar talking
Brian J Schlote Brian J Schlote Wednesday, February 19, 2014 12:52:45 PM Is this becoming a weekly occurrence? :(
Wayland Slater Wayland Slater Wednesday, February 19, 2014 2:55:02 PM The old "whose in charge of a scene" argument. That is something that needs to be addressed in a county meeting or worked out between the departments. It's been an issue for decades. My biggest problem is this situation became unprofessional and personal by all involved. I'm just going to leave it at that. I could go on and on but all that would do is rile up some people and just start nick-picking every word I use and twist things around causing more confusing.
Stephen Bourassa Stephen Bourassa Wednesday, February 19, 2014 4:10:01 PM Technically the police are in charge at a MVA. It just that in our area they let us "do what we do". I can't speak for how things are done in other states.
Robert Fenton Robert Fenton Wednesday, February 19, 2014 7:11:10 PM In NJ ems has control of an accident scene over fire co and as long as there is no fire or entrapment the pd has control over the roadway, that is until they don't want to sit there anymore then they have our firepolice take over. As far as opening or closing roadways that is pd choice. Not saying I agree with any of it, that's just how it is. I don't believe ems should have control over accident scenes but they do.mva s are dispatched as ems grids not fire. Again I totally disagree but that is how it is... For police to arrest firefighters at a scene is completely unprofesional
Les Fenton Les Fenton Thursday, February 20, 2014 2:03:46 AM I disagree a little..... I believe it should be a team effort and the cops stand back and as we tell them! either fire or ems, whoever has the most training and experience for said task at hand. we don't tell the cops how to control their other 90% of duties so why should the control ours.
Robert Rennich Robert Rennich Friday, February 28, 2014 7:39:33 AM According to who? N.I.M.S. says Incident Command belongs to the senior person on the first arriving unit until he/she passes command.
Robert Rennich Robert Rennich Friday, February 28, 2014 7:43:34 AM I agree, but it's a matter of training. N.I.M.S. has already spelled it out for them, senior responder on the first arriving unit. I've taken several NIMS courses and I've never seen anywhere that law enforcement is automatically in command on an MVA.
Robert Rennich Robert Rennich Friday, February 28, 2014 7:59:15 AM On February 28, 2003, the President issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD–5), “Management of Domestic Incidents,” which directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and administer a National Incident Management System (NIMS). This system provides a consistent nationwide template to enable federal, state, tribal and local governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location or complexity. This consistency provides the foundation for utilization of NIMS for all incidents, ranging from daily occurrences to incidents requiring a coordinated federal response.
Russ Prokop Russ Prokop Tuesday, March 18, 2014 8:39:37 AM Depending on local law. NIMS does require that the IC have a jurisdictional authority, or have been appointed by an agency with jurisdictional authority. Otherwise anyone with ICS training can pull up to any emergency scene and take command, and refuse to transfer it when the agency that covers that area arrives. Think of it this way, if I as a firefighter found myself on the scene of an active shooting, I may take charge in the absence of any other trained emergency personnel, but I couldn't claim to be the IC once PD started showing up, even if I refused to transfer command. Jurisdictional laws put that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of law enforcement.
Russ Prokop Russ Prokop Tuesday, March 18, 2014 8:40:51 AM So you're in charge when called to treat the victims of a shooting? Or when you are on standby for a bomb threat?
Greg Boivin Greg Boivin Tuesday, March 18, 2014 9:00:32 AM Russ Prokop: apparently I need to clarify--Where the Fire Department is the primary responder and mitigator, yes, we are in charge (i.e, auto accidents with injuries, Hazmats on highways or local streets). These issues involve "crimes," that kind of blur the lines of who is in charge due to the fact that multiple agencies have legal interests in the outcome. Obviously, not every call is "black & white." And we have a great working relationship with our law enforcement at the local & state level. On your "run-of-the-mill" call that involves both FD & PD, the FD is in charge. At a shooting, the PD is in charge of securing the crime scene, and the Fire Dept. is in charge of patient care--we are in charge at a shooting if there is a victim, until the victim is removed from the area, because in our state patient care takes president to crime scene preservation (although we try to disturb as little as possible). When we are done, the PD takes over. As far as a bomb threat (with actual bomb), the police deal with "the bomb," as well as, what would probably become a multi-jurisdictional (FBI, DEEP, etc.) affair, due to high target areas in our city & state. The "unified command structure" takes over as "In Charge." A simple "bomb threat" Yes, the FD is in charge, and the police work as a separate division under FD Command to resolve the issue. Our Chiefs make the final all clear signal--not the PD.
Russ Prokop Russ Prokop Tuesday, March 18, 2014 2:04:24 PM That's the way it is supposed to work. My state however has it set up that any incident on an interstate falls under the command of the State PD. So if they don't want to close the road the only things we can do about it is leave a now unsafe scene, work on the scene and file a complaint later, or ask that they call a supervisor out to the scene. The incident in this story is confusing because it never states what the Fire Department was actually doing on this accident scene. Was there a fire, a rescue, or a hazmat incident? The picture of the wreck that I saw just showed a truck down an embankment. It looked like it needed a tow truck more than the FD. Obviously I wasn't there so I can't say for certain. The article also stated that the State PD decided the road would stay open. So why was the fight between the Sheriff and the FD, while the State PD stood by and watched? It seems that bad choices were made all around.
Greg Boivin Greg Boivin Tuesday, March 18, 2014 4:58:28 PM Russ Prokop I like our system. I have seen and read too many times that when the PD is on control, they have no ability to step back, and maybe see another point of view. At least here, "most" FD Officers have level heads, so they will step back when our job is done, and then "let" the PD feel like they are in charge. We do run into problems with our State PD occasionally on highway incidents, but nothing that isn't resolved quickly with a state law review and a political ass-chewing of the cop. I had read an earlier report that these 2 FD guys had returned to the scene when they heard the cops calling for the tow truck, and the FD guys seems to just want to raz the cops (due to some bad-blood) more than anything, but as you said--we weren't; there, and Monday-morning quarterbacking is easy, but many times inefficient. Stay safe!
Robert Rennich Robert Rennich Tuesday, March 18, 2014 9:32:47 PM True enough, but it should always be an informed transfer. The out-going IC should give information to the in-coming IC. Only my ego would stop me from transferring command to the proper jurisdiction. But, I still fail to see where an MVA fits this bill. Does PD know something about traffic control that Fire doesn't? I remember an MVA last summer where 7 (yes 7) patrol cars parked on scene on a 2-lane highway and it was difficult to get the Engine and ambulance anywhere near it. Not slamming on PD, I like them, but we all have to work together or it doesn't work at all.
Russ Prokop Russ Prokop Tuesday, March 18, 2014 10:59:11 PM Well actually yes, PD does know a thing or two about traffic that we don't, since traffic control is one of their primary functions, and most often used skill set. Every ticket they write and every accident they go to (even the ones with no injuries) means that they have far more experience on the roads than we do. Just in call volume alone I bet they are on the side of the road at least twice as often as we are in the same jurisdiction. And while they may not always be mindful of our need to get past them with larger vehicles, that doesn't equate to not understanding traffic control. Especially in most areas traffic control is covered in classes at the Police Academy. I don't know about where you are from but here in Jersey, Firefighter 1, 2, 3, and EMT classes don't cover that topic beyond "don't get run over."

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