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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
All Rights Reserved

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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