Crime & Courts

Chester County sheriff’s son sentenced to 12 years for trafficking cocaine

Jacquese Underwood, wearing a suit so new the tags were still on it, was 97 minutes late for court Tuesday morning. It was 11:07 a.m., and court was supposed to start at 9:30. The 29-year-old did not rush, despite cops and court bailiffs getting set to find him and haul him into court. He didn’t even hustle.

He walked slowly down the sidewalk. His pants were too big. The sleeves on the blue suit jacket far too long. It didn’t matter. He walked toward the Moss Justice Center doors, smoking a cigarette, then gave the half-smoked butt to a guy sitting on the faded brick wall.

“Want this?” he asked the guy.

The guy gratefully took it.

It would be the last legal cigarette the convicted drug dealer and son of Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood will smoke in the next 12 1/2 years.

Jacquese Underwood walked upstairs and pleaded “no contest” to conspiracy to trafficking a kilogram of cocaine. For sentencing, a “no contest” plea is treated the same as a guilty plea. It is a guilty plea without the guts to say you did it.

It was the second time since 2007 he has admitted having peddled drugs to kids – the same kids his father tries to protect by putting drug dealers in prison.

Jacquese Underwood was arrested for this kilo of cocaine just five days before his father, a lifetime State Law Enforcement Division agent, was elected Chester County’s first black sheriff.

The son celebrated the courage of his father by accepting 2.2 pounds of uncut cocaine in the mail.

Sheriff Underwood – who was once shot by a convicted felon while trying to protect residents and other cops – has had no contact with his son for more than a decade, since the son refused to walk the straight and narrow.

Jacquese Underwood said almost nothing in court Tuesday, other than to say that he has two kids of his own, both 10. He did not mention their names.

By taking the plea, he avoided a trial that could have cost him twice the prison stretch. He waved as he left the courtroom and went to prison, the cuffs on the baggy pants of his suit dragging the floor as he walked.

Co-defendant Duane Harrison, 41, a convicted kidnapper who has spent most of his adult life in prison was part of the month-long 2012 plot to have drugs shipped to Rock Hill from California. Harrison also pleaded no contest and was sentenced to the same time in prison.

The facts of the case showed staggering gall on the part of Jacquese Underwood and Harrison. They had been exchanging text messages about the deal for a month. They used other people’s homes and changed phones and tried to act like movie star drug dealers driving big SUVs with blacked-out windows and chrome rims.

The drugs were found in a United Parcel Service package addressed to the Rock Hill home of a woman Jacquese Underwood knew. Drug agents confiscated the cocaine, replaced it with a phony brick, re-taped the package, and another agent posing as a UPS driver delivered the package. Harrison, the lookout, drove around and watched it all. Jacquese Underwood put what he thought was the kilo of cocaine in his car and both drug dealers drove away, ready to make a fortune.

Cops then swooped in by car, foot, truck and van. Jacquese Underwood and Harrison tried to flee, using 180-degree spins in getaway cars paid for with drug profits, then ran on foot – right into the waiting arms of more agents.

Both had denied everything until Tuesday, as the trial was set to start.

“For this crime, for getting this amount of drugs, narcotics, off the street, we see this plea as a just result,” said Matt Shelton, the 16th Circuit assistant solicitor who prosecuted the case. “This is a lot of cocaine. Both defendants went to prison for a long time.”

Shelton offered the plea deal to make sure both drug dealers go to prison and harm no other kids with dope. Nobody objected to the deal. Circuit Court Judge Lee Alford said the facts of the case showed clear drug dealing, then accepted the plea deal and handed down the sentences.

Shelton held up a kilogram of cocaine – 2.2 pounds of flaked death.

“This will not be on the street,” Shelton said.

Over the past two months, Sheriff Underwood has appeared in TV documentaries broadcast nationwide that are meant to scare teens straight. He has performed community interventions to try to stem the tide of drugs and gangs after killings in Chester. But he was not in court Tuesday when his son left for prison for selling drugs, again.

Marvin Brown, supervisor of York County’s drug enforcement unit, said after Tuesday’s court hearing that he remembered celebrating when drug dealers were sentenced to prison. Brown, a cop for more than 35 years, has worked with Sheriff Underwood and other Chester officers on many drug stings. Together, they have confiscated pounds of drugs and sent dozens of dealers to prison. Just a few weeks ago, Sheriff Underwood and Brown and others confiscated 20 pounds of marijuana.

This time, though, Brown was part of the team that sent Sheriff Underwood’s own son to prison for selling drugs. Not dime bags. Not nickel bags. More than 2 pounds of cocaine.

“All I can say about this is, it is a shame,” Brown said.