Sheriff's accuser takes stand in civil assault trial

Sheriff's accuser takes stand in civil assault trial

CHESTER COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - Graphic testimony was heard in court Tuesday in the civil sexual assault case against Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood.

A former captain, Mary Anne Tolbert, spelled out numerous accusations to the jury Tuesday morning.

Tolbert said sexual encounters happened between her and the sheriff while they were working together in the Chester County Sheriff's office. Monday during opening statements, Alex Underwood's lawyers repeatedly said these accusations are false.

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They also said Tolbert is a trained investigator who knows how to collect evidence and build a case. They argued in this civil case, Tolbert is relying on her words only.

When Tolbert took the stand Tuesday, she explained to the jurors why she didn't have evidence. She said in all her previous cases as an investigator she's never seen a rapist pick up their evidence.

She told the jury Underwood is an investigator, too. She was graphic in her words, to summarize after their numerous sexual encounters Underwood was careful not to leave any bodily fluids or DNA behind. Tolbert said she complied to sex with her boss because she felt she had to or she would lose her job.

At the start of her testimony, Tolbert explained how she knew Underwood ten years ago. He was a SLED investigator and she was working in another county as an investigator. They were friends at first, and would fish and hunt together.

Tolbert said she was ashamed to admit it, but they became "friends with benefits." She said they were dating other people at the time, but they would have sex, and talk on the phone at night because they both had sleep issues. Tolbert said the consenting sexual relationship ended when he became possessive.

Underwood became her boss in 2013. Prior to his election, she said they ran into each other in a parking lot where he asked her who she supported - the current sheriff or him. She said she told him she didn't care for politics. Tolbert said different things about her reaction to his election. To the defense, she said she was happy because Underwood was her friend. To her lawyers she said she was scared because she was afraid she could lose her job.

Under cross examination she told the defense, Underwood didn't fire her he promoted her to Major and made her the lead of investigations.

Tolbert says there were 18 times she had sex with the sheriff. While she can't remember the dates of all of those times, she remembers where. She says she told him 'no, we shouldn't be doing this' every time. She says he didn't physical beat her, she would tell him no but she did it because she was afraid of losing her job.

When asked could she refuse?  She said oh no, you didn't want to be on his bad side.

Tolbert alleges the forced or coerced sex started in February 2013.  She says the Sheriff took her to a hunt club in his Chester County issued truck.  She said he told her told her nobody wanted her to work there (Chester County Sheriff's office). He said he was the only reason she had a job.

Her lawyer asked afterward if they had any conversation the whole way back. She said no.

When asked why Tolbert responded she felt dirty, she felt like a prostitute and she felt guilty and ashamed. She said, "I should have been able to stop it." It shouldn't have got that far. She should have been stronger.

On cross about this incident, Tolbert admitted that when Underwood told her to go in the backseat she did and she pulled down her own pants.

There are only three specific dates Tolbert could identify, and she says it was based on what she remembered happened on those same days.

June 18, 2013: She says she was taken to a golf course and had sex standing next to the Sheriff's truck after a license check. Tolbert said she remembers seeing a Great Falls policeman drive by. On cross, she said she never tracked down which officer saw them.

April 3, 2013:  After a DUI recognition event in Columbia, Tolbert says the Sheriff took her to his friend's house. She says the sheriff had the key and told her he had to check on the house. She claims he laid a blanket that was hanging on the back of the couch on the floor and had sex on the floor. That friend took the stand after Tolbert Tuesday, she said she didn't know Tolbert and that she didn't keep blankets on the back of her couch.

June 21, 2013: The National Sheriff's conference was in Charlotte. Tolbert says Underwood drove her to his hotel to check in early and they had sex in the room and drove back to Chester County.

The locations she claimed they had sex included another friend's home, Underwood's office bathroom, a public park, a boat landing, and Underwood's home.

Tolbert said the Sheriff said he wasn't concerned about his wife walking in while at his house, but Tolbert said she was because his wife was an officer at the time and had a gun.

She didn't file any criminal charges. She said she talked to SLED and HR after she couldn't take it anymore.

On cross examination, the defense made sure Tolbert told the jury the first time she spoke to state investigators from SLED about allegations against Underwood was the day after the Sheriff filled the Chief Deputy position a job she applied for.

Tolbert did not file a formal complaint as she was told by investigators. The defense asked so you went to your lawyer so you could get money instead. Tolbert said, "I didn't plan to blackmail him, I wasn't trying to set him up. I hoped it would go away on it's own."

The defense also showed Tolbert's emails where she admitted she was told by SLED to file a formal complaint, but she told HR she didn't want SLED involved. On redirect, she said she didn't trust SLED because the Underwoods were former SLED employees.

The defense's big question for the accuser in this case is where is the evidence? They asked Tolbert about her story and said if this happened during the day and sometimes in public places where are the witnesses?

Tolbert acknowledged her story is hard to believe. She added, "I don't have reason to lie. That's the truth." She said she didn't look for witnesses because she knew there were none. But the defense lawyer for Underwood pressed more, saying that a trained investigator knows she needs evidence.

Defense lawyers asked according to her story if Tolbert was fired after she told the sheriff the sex had to stop. She said no. She said the next four months were rough.

The sheriff's wife has been in court throughout the trial sitting directly behind him. Throughout the majority of the accuser's testimony she appeared to be listening and showed no reaction or shock. During the breaks she has been speaking with her husband and smiling.

To be clear, this is a civil case. Underwood is not facing any criminal charges for assault, harassment or rape. Underwood's lawyers said he will take the stand during the trial.

The judge in this case allowed a camera in court for opening and closing statements. Testimony from witnesses will not be recorded by photographers.

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