S.C. Deputies Arrest Fire Chief, Firefighter After Scuffle

The firefighters allegedly yelled at the sheriff and pushed deputies in a dispute over traffic control.

CHESTER, S.C. -- The West Chester Volunteer Fire Department chief and his brother spent Saturday night in the Chester County jail after being arrested by sheriff's deputies following a scuffle with the sheriff and other officers at the scene of an overturned truck Friday afternoon.

Police allege the firefighters yelled obscenities at Sheriff Alex Underwood and other officers and pushed them in a dispute over traffic control at the crash scene on S.C. 9 west of Chester.

Chief Andy Martin, 57, and volunteer firefighter Tommy Martin, 61, were charged with assault. They were arrested at their homes at about 8 p.m. Saturday, kept in jail overnight and released on personal recognizance bonds after appearing before Magistrate Dianne Moore Sunday morning, police and court records show.

The altercation over whether the highway should have been closed and who was in charge has both sides pointing fingers at the other for how the situation was handled.

The ongoing court battle over control of Chester County's 911 dispatch system an a sheriff's election that's still two years away also have been brought up as elements in the scuffle.

Underwood says both Andy Martin and Tommy Martin, who each have more than 40 years experience as volunteer firefighters, assaulted him and a deputy as they tried to control the situation.

"Assaulting a police officer will never be tolerated," Underwood said Monday. "The law applies to everyone, regardless of who you are or what profession you are in.

"It is unfortunate that some people think they are entitled to special treatment or think that they are above the law."

Andy Martin told The Herald on Monday that he was upset that he had been arrested. He called the way the incident was handled by the Sheriff's Office "a fiasco" and "a shame."

"I have volunteered out here for 40 years," Andy Martin said. "I was the incident commander. I have devoted my whole adult life to the fire service."

Andy Martin said deputies treated him "like a hardened criminal." Underwood and his deputies "overstepped their bounds," he said, first by handcuffing for 10 minutes him at the crash scene, then by arresting him at his home a day later. He said he has talked to a lawyer but has not yet hired one.

Efforts to reach Tommy Martin were unsuccessful Monday. His wife declined to comment.

Arrest warrants against Tommy Martin allege he pushed Underwood, then pushed and tried to tackle Sheriff's Capt. Robert Sprouse. The warrants say he was not acting in self defense. He was charged with two counts of assault.

Arrest warrants against Andy Martin allege he was "acting in a disorderly manner," and pushed Capt. Sprouse as deputies attempted to remove him from the wreck scene. He was charged with assault and disorderly conduct.

'Fight and struggle'

The incident began after a tractor-trailer skidded off the side of S.C. 9 near Turnbuckle Road just before 4 p.m. Friday.

Sheriff's deputies who initially went to the scene left after Highway Patrol troopers said the highway would not be closed until a wrecker arrived to move the truck.

Underwood and several of his senior deputies arrived at the scene at about 4:15 p.m. and a conversation about who would direct traffic and when the highway should be closed took place.

Sheriff's officials said that, as they explained why the first deputies had left the scene, Tommy Martin and Andy Martin instigated an argument when they "came up and began to complain," because they had wanted the deputies to stay and close the road.

"At this time," the report reads, "Thomas Martin became angry with Maj. (Randy) Marsh, and the talking became very heated."

The firefighters then brought up the ongoing court battle between Chester County and the Sheriff's Office over control of emergency 911 dispatch, the report states, and Andy Martin made statements about "election time." Underwood, elected sheriff in 2012, will be up for election again in 2016.

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