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Chester sheriff, firefighters settle lawsuit in roadside scuffle caught on video

A Highway patrol dashboard camera captured the scuffle between two volunteer West Chester firefighters and Chester County sheriff’s deputies on Feb. 14, 2014.
A Highway patrol dashboard camera captured the scuffle between two volunteer West Chester firefighters and Chester County sheriff’s deputies on Feb. 14, 2014. Rock Hill Herald

The lawsuit filed by two Chester County firefighters alleging false arrest and assault against the sheriff and top deputies was settled Monday, a week before a potential trial.

Terms of the settlement have not been released.

Chester County and its elected officials have insurance coverage for lawsuits that allege damage from personal harm, said Joanie Winters, Chester County attorney. The settlement costs will be paid by the insurance company that settled the claim, Winters said.

Chester County does not pay the settlement, Winters said, the insurance company does. However, the money for the insurance coverage is purchased by Chester County and paid for by taxpayers.

An official settlement court order has yet to be filed, but court records show that the lawsuit was settled Monday.

West Chester Volunteer Fire Department Chief Andy Martin and his brother, Tommy Martin, also a volunteer firefighter, sued Sheriff Alex Underwood and his top deputies in 2015 for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

Police arrested both men after after a wreck in a storm on Feb. 14, 2014. The roadside scuffle was captured on police dashcam video .

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office declined to prosecute the case but said probable cause for their arrest “may have existed” after an argument turned physical.

The Martins have a combined 90 years of volunteer experience and their lawyer and supporters railed that their arrest was wrong. Both men -- Tommy Martin is a former Chester County Council member and Chester school board member -- were charged on a weekend and had to spend a night in jail.

But Underwood said from the beginning that any assault on his officers would not be tolerated.

Jim Davis, lawyer for the sheriff and his deputies, confirmed the settlement but said it was done to save the county taxpayer’s money to defend the suit at trial. The sheriff and his office admit no wrongdoing and the sheriff did not want to settle, Davis said.

“The sheriff remains adamant that he and his guys did nothing wrong,” Davis said. “The decision was made to cut the cost and get it resolved.”

Chester Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse, spokesman for the department and one of the officers involved in the scuffle, said the sheriff’s office had no comment on the settlement.

The incident captured national attention after The Herald reported the scuffle and arrest, then obtained the dashcam video from troopers with the S.C. Highway patrol.

The firefighters were in command of the scene after a truck overturned and wanted the road closed, but troopers and deputies declined.

Efforts Monday to reach the Martins and their lawyer, Dan D’Agostino, for comment on the settlement were unsuccessful.

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