Jury rules in favor of Chester County sheriff in civil sexual battery trial

Jury rules in favor of Chester County sheriff in civil sexual battery trial

CHESTER COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - The jury in the civil trial of Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood ruled in favor of the sheriff, stating that Mary Anne Tolbert did not prove the civil sexual battery charge.

Tolbert was a former major in the Chester County Sheriff's Office and claimed she was coerced to have sex with her boss because she was afraid of losing her job.

After less than two hours, the jury said Tolbert didn't prove her allegations.

The court clerk read the jury's decision, "Has Mary Ann Tolbert proven by a preponderance of evidence that Alex Underwood in his individual capacity is liable for sexual assault and battery? No."

Underwood wiped away tears as his lawyers grabbed his arms. As the jury was excused, Underwood's wife hugged him as did many supporters who have sat through the trial.

"I'm glad it's over with," Underwood said.

Underwood spoke to reporters about the decision and how he has wanted to speak over the last two years when Tolbert originally filed the lawsuit. He said he wanted to go to trial.

"Because I didn't do anything. Because I happened to learn, you can sue anybody for anything. This didn't happen, my name, my reputation, everything I stand for," Underwood said. "It's been terrible. We've been having to go through this for a lot of time."

Tolbert did not speak after the trial. Her lawyer, Janet Rhodes, did speak with WBTV.

"Miss Tolbert is understandably... she's upset. We still have the federal case pending and we're certainly going to pursue that avenue," Rhodes said after the verdict.

Rhodes said they will still pursue sexual harassment charges. The federal case is not yet on the docket. Underwood's lawyer said it's unclear when it will be scheduled. Rhodes said they are considering an appeal.

Underwood is running for sheriff in this election and wants voters to know the results of this case.

"I just hope that they see the truth and they realize that it didn't happen," Underwood said.

Before the deliberations, the jury heard closing arguments in the case.

There were two sides - a former investigator who claimed she had unwanted sex 18 times, and the sheriff who said all the allegations were completely false.

"Her words, 'that she was raped 18 times over the course of 8 months,' that she didn't tell anybody, does that make sense? No," defense lawyer Daniel Plyler said in his closing argument, "Why? Because it's just not true."

Underwood has said in his testimony he did not have sex with Tolbert while he was sheriff of Chester County.

The sheriff's lawyer explained the law to the jury that the burden to prove her case lies with Tolbert.

"The fundamental principle that underlies that right that allows you to come in here to sue for anything is that you take on the burden proving it. They don't have to prove it didn't happen. Can you imagine how hard it would be to prove something didn't happen?" Plyler said, "Can you just imagine for a second, how hard would it be to prove something didn't happen? If it didn't happen, I can't take a picture of it. Why? Because it didn't happen. If it didn't happen, I can't bring in witnesses to tell you that. Why? Because it didn't happen."

Plyler argued they were here in civil court because Tolbert invented the story after she didn't get the chief deputy job and, based on her experience, she knew not to make false accusations to state investigators.

Plyler said instead of seeking justice, Tolbert was seeking money.

Tolbert's lawyer, Janet Rhodes, argued there was no statute of limitations on criminal charges.

The lawyer said Tolbert didn't invent a story, and that if it was a story it would be perfect.

"If she was trying to build a case we would see perfectly lined everything, but I'm sorry she didn't plan to get sexually assaulted, she didn't plan to get battered, she didn't plan to make a case. It's real life we're dealing with here," Rhodes said.

Rhodes said not getting the chief deputy job was what pushed her to her limit after she endured the unwanted sex. Rhodes said after Tolbert stopped having sex with the Sheriff he used his power by not promoting her to Chief Deputy, a job he encouraged her to apply for previously.

"She wasn't trying to build a case. She's not trying to create this story that everybody is talking about," Rhodes said in her closing argument, "That she was hoping it would stop. She was hoping it would stop."

After Judge Dan Hall explained the law, the jury decided they did not believe Tolbert's claims. Under the law, it was her team of lawyers' burden to prove the case. A case the sheriff's team said was a web of lies.


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