Former Chester SC sheriff could serve in North Carolina jail after sentencing

Alex “Big A” Underwood spent more than 30 years in law enforcement catching some of America’s most violent fugitives and sending gang members in jail.

But now that Underwood has himself been convicted of bribery while serving as sheriff of Chester County in South Carolina, he could be sent to a federal prison in North Carolina for his own safety while incarcerated.

U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs recommended in an order Wednesday that Underwood serve his 46-month prison sentence at Butner Jail north of Raleigh.

The final decision on where Underwood will be housed will be made by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Underwood is scheduled to report to jail by September 15.

The Butner Jail is the same one where Ted Kaczynski, known as Unabomber, is housed.

The order may be one of Childs’ last actions as a South Carolina federal judge. Earlier this week, the US Senate confirmed Childs for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, one of the most prestigious federal courts in the country.

Safety a concern

Underwood’s attorneys Stanley Myers, Jake Moore and Gil Bell have requested that Underwood not serve his prison sentence in South Carolina for security reasons, court testimony and documents show.

It is not uncommon for law enforcement officials convicted of crimes to be sent to prisons in states far from their former place of employment and become part of a system that sends convicted felons to prison.

Dan Johnsonformer chief prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw counties in the Columbia area, served his one-year prison term in Butner after pleading guilty to stealing federal money while in office.

Underwood faced gangs and criminals while in law enforcement

Underwood had public confrontations with gangs and violent criminals during his tenure as sheriff, and before that during his more than 20-year career with the state’s Division of Law Enforcement.

Underwood was a member of a federal fugitive task force with the U.S. Marshals that included the capture of violent offenders.

On one occasion he was shot but survived by arresting a violent offender in 2004. Underwood was also a dog handler for SLED and was involved in the investigation and arrest of wanted fugitives in South Carolina and other other states.

As sheriff, Underwood arrested several Bloods gang members in connection with the 2014 murder of Chester City Council member Odell Williams.

Underwood publicly stated in 2014 that he had “declared (a) war on the gangs”.

Gang members threatened him with death during the investigation, Underwood said in court on July 11.

At least two of those gang members remain in South Carolina jails, according to court records.

After publicly telling the gangs he was pursuing them in 2014 after death threats, Underwood wore a body armor at public events in Chester County, he and his attorneys told the court.

Underwood was elected in 2012 as Chester’s first-ever black sheriff. He received further threats and his dog was poisoned after he was elected to the top job in law enforcement, court records show.

Underwood’s sentencing

Underwood, 59, was sentenced on July 11 after being found guilty at a trial in 2021. He appealed the conviction, but that appeal has so far had no effect on his reporting date , according to court documents.

Underwood was found guilty of disenfranchisement, wire fraud and conspiracy. A jury found him guilty of his role in the false arrest of a man in 2018 and a subsequent cover-up, taking money from the deputy’s work on his personal property and accepting false payments for hours not worked in a DUI workgroup.

Underwood served from 2013 until 2019, when he was suspended from duty after being charged.

Butner Prison: Unabomber and Madoff

The Butner prison that Underwood could be assigned to is a medium-security facility off Interstate 85 north of Durham and Raleigh.

The FMC Butner Manual says it provides a safe, secure and humane environment for offenders. It houses approximately 1,400 inmates.

Butner currently houses Ted Kaczinski, known as Unabomber. Kaczynski is at Butner serving multiple life sentences for bombings over two decades, from the 1970s until he was arrested in the 1990s.

The prison has also housed other famous convicts, including investment magnate Bernie Madoff, who died in prison in 2021.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice and people . He is the author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the US Library of Congress.

John Monk has covered the courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A US Army veteran who covered the US invasion of Panama in 1989, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death sentence trials, including those of Charleston church killer Dylann Roof, serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins and child killer Tim Jones. Monk’s hobbies include hiking, books, languages, music and more.

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