CHESTER Newly elected Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate after finding a plastic storage bin filled with unserved arrest warrants for more than four-dozen people accused of committing crimes over the past year.
Information for some of those warrants was never entered into the Sheriff’s Office computer system, Underwood said this week.
Since his November election over incumbent Richard Smith, Underwood, a former SLED agent, said he’s been preparing to “clean the house” and “clean the streets.”
Underwood’s arrival as sheriff hit an odd note this week when he reported that someone poisoned his German shepherd. The 19-month-old dog died early Monday.
His efforts to “clean house” include sifting through piles of paperwork and warrants found under desks and on top of file cabinets. Underwood said it appears the documents were never filed or served to the people accused of committing the crimes.
“It’s almost like (the crimes) never happened,” he said.
Efforts to reach former Sheriff Richard Smith were unsuccessful Tuesday.
So far, officials have identified at least 50 people who were never served with their warrants, said Ginny Sloan, the sheriff’s head of 911. Sloand said she’s spent nights and weekends entering newfound warrants into a Sheriff’s Office database – many of them for the first time.
Those 50 people all have active warrants against them, with charges ranging from shoplifting to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature to several drug violations.
Because the information wasn’t in the system, deputies calling in to search for active warrants on someone were unable to see any of their outstanding arrest warrants, Underwood said. This created a possible “safety hazard” for deputies, he said, because they didn’t have complete information while approaching someone.
“Every warrant should have a trail,” Sloan said.
On Tuesday, Underwood and Sloan showed The (Rock Hill) Herald piles of active warrants issued for the people “who still have to be picked up,” Underwood said. On the same table were nine more piles of papers that officials hadn’t examined.
All of the paperwork, Sloan said, will have to be vetted so officials can determine if the warrant has been served or recalled – a process where officials note a change or update that requires the warrant to be rescinded, and a new warrant to be issued in its place.
One of the warrants not yet served is for a man accused of raping a 42-year-old woman in her home while she slept. Another one adds new charges against a woman accused of kicking a deputy several times while resisting arrest.
None of the warrants found so far have been for people wanted for murder, Sloan said. But, “whether it’s someone stealing an elderly person’s vial of medicine” or committing a murder, she said, “you’re still dealing with a victim.”
“Once we get it all figured out and verified, we’ll get with the investigators” to inform the victims and start making arrests, Underwood said.
Underwood was alerted about the warrants two weeks ago after firing an employee whose duties included entering warrant data in the Sheriff’s Office computers. When she packed up her belongings and prepared to leave, a deputy noticed that she was carrying a plastic bin filled with miscellaneous paperwork, he said.
The deputy realized much of the paperwork were original arrest warrants still bearing a magistrate’s signature.
Underwood is seeking help from SLED to determine if charges can be filed for the failure to properly handle warrants.
“It’s a criminal investigation,” he said.
When warrants are issued, employees in the warrant division are supposed to enter the information into a legal system and then file the paperwork in a file cabinet stored in the Sheriff’s Office 911 center.
If deputies are performing a traffic stop and want to check if the person has an outstanding warrant, they can call the dispatcher, who can look in the system, find the information, look up the warrant and then find the original warrant – signed by a judge – in the file cabinet.
An additional warrant can’t be served on a person unless the dispatcher has the original warrant in hand to give to the deputy, Sloan said. The deputy then signs and issues the warrant.