Sheriff Underwood in court facing sexual assault lawsuit

Sheriff Underwood in court facing sexual assault lawsuit

CHESTER COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - The Sheriff of Chester County is in court facing civil charges that he sexually assaulted a female captain in his office.

Mary Anne Tolbert filed the lawsuit in August of 2014 and the jury trial began Monday.

Sheriff Alex Underwood has five different lawyers representing him personally and the office he holds. Back in August 2014, he said these allegations are completely false and he looked forward to vigorously defending them through trial.

Mary Anne Tolbert alleges in the lawsuit that Underwood, her boss in February 2013 through October 2013, battered her, touched her "harmfully and offensively on various parts of her body" and coerced her to unwillingly to have sex with him.

In 2013, Tolbert was the captain over the jail and in charge of Animal Control.

Tolbert says when she stopped allowing them to be alone together, he increased her workload. Her lawsuit claims the assaults led to increased stress and took a physical toll causing her to take medical leave.

During pretrial motions, the judge said he would allow jurors to be asked questions regarding sexual assault but not sexual harassment. Eight women and four men were selected for the jury. Opening statements were given to the jurors Monday afternoon.

Malissa Burnette, Tolbert's lawyer explained how her client felt ashamed she couldn't take care of herself the way she takes care of everyone else.

Both sides in the courtroom didn't disagree that Sheriff Alex Underwood and former captain Mary Anne Tolbert had a relationship ten years ago before each was married. Burnette says Underwood took advantage of that previous relationship once he became Tolbert's boss in 2013 and exploited her weaknesses.

"She was trapped. She felt trapped," Burnette said.

Burnette says Tolbert needed her job as the sole breadwinner taking care of a disabled husband and her son.

The lawyer for the Sheriff's office Kassie Sandifer said there are too many inconsistencies in Tolbert's story about being forced or coerced to have sex on multiple occasions from February 2013 to October 2013.

"It did not happen," Sandifer said to the jury.

Underwood's personal lawyer Jim Davis stood up after Sandifer and agreed. He said everything Tolbert says is not true. Davis said Tolbert alleges she was being assaulted over 8 months and 18 times yet during that time in August 2013 she tried to get the number two job in the office which would increase her daily contact with the Sheriff.

"She applies for the Chief Deputy position. Does that make any sense at all? No," Davis said.

Davis also told the jury Tolbert is a professional investigator who builds cases for a living and yet in this civil case all she has is her word. This is a civil case and if Tolbert wins, she could receive money from Underwood. Underwood is not facing any jail time.

"All you can do is send a message so, as she has said, 'no other woman will be trapped in this way,'" Burnette said.

The judge in this case has allowed a camera in court for opening and closing statements. Testimony from witnesses cannot be recorded by photographers. The first witnesses take the stand Tuesday morning.

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