Interim Sheriff Dorsey taking "a leap of faith"

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By Travis Jenkins

Leaving a steady, long-term job for one that could end in a few months requires a big leap of faith.

“I’m making that leap. I want people to know that I’m committed to serving Chester,” said Donald “Max” Dorsey II.

When Dorsey woke up Tuesday morning, he was a captain of the State Law Enforcement Division’s (SLED) Narcotics Division. As of 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, he will be sworn in as the interim sheriff of Chester County. Shortly after suspending Sheriff Alex Underwood following his indictment on multiple charges (including lying to the FBI, tampering with evidence, falsifying reports and violating the civil rights of victim Kevin Simpson in connection with arrest in November of last year) S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster phoned Dorsey.

“The governor reached out to me and asked if I would accept an appointment as interim sheriff. He advised me that Sheriff Underwood had been indicted. I told him I would be honored to accept the position,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey doesn’t know how McMaster came to choose him, but his history with the governor indicates that it was not a decision he took lightly. Dorsey has some history with the governor, having been assigned to his office during his tenure as attorney general.

“He prosecuted many of my cases when he was attorney general,” Dorsey said. “Some of my biggest cases. He presented me with the Strom Thurmond Award. I don’t know how he chose me but I’m sure he did his due diligence and I know that whoever he appoints to positions, he has high expectations. I’m not going to let him down.”

Dorsey said he got to work immediately, assembling “a skeleton crew” (including hiring Joe Tate, a retired highway patrolman, as his chief deputy) and implementing plans to move forward. He understands the first and foremost commitment a sheriff makes to the public is to provide for their safety and well-being and wants Chester County residents to know a change at the top will not interfere with that commitment.

“Public safety is the priority for our county. Our job is to maintain safety for citizens and their property. I want to assure Chester County residents  that I accept that responsibility. I take my job seriously,” he said.

His new job is an intensely personal one for Dorsey. He is a Chester County native, a Chester High School graduate and a current Chester County resident.

“Chester is my hometown. I love it. Amy (his wife) and I could have moved elsewhere but we chose to move back home,” he said.

As he assumes his new role, Dorsey not only inherits the business of running the day-to-day operation of an office and enforcing the law, he will also be tasked with some fairly weighty issues. He is cognizant of the fact that there may be people who feel let down by what occurred Tuesday or have lost trust in the sheriff’s office. All he can do on that front is the best job he can.

“I recognize some in the community may have lost faith. I want to reassure people that there are good men and women who work in the sheriff’s office. People who do a good job. My job is to provide leadership and resources. I can’t go back and change things that have happened in the past, I can only do the job now to the best of my abilities,” he said.

The Chester County Sheriff’s Office has had conflict recently with the City of Chester Police Department regarding access to the county law enforcement center (Underwood told city police to return ID badges he had them buy just a month ago and restricted their access beyond the lobby unless accompanied by one of his deputies) and stopped the practice of handling NCIC (National Crime Information Center) entries for them. Dorsey said he will address those issues soon, but also said one of his first calls after speaking to McMaster was to Chester Police Chief Eric Williams to pledge his support and cooperation with city police. He plans to speak to Chester County School Superintendent Dr. Angela Bain Wednesday. Among the many topics he plans to discuss is the unfilled SRO position. The county and school district agreed to fund one new SRO position early this school year, but that position has gone unfilled for “administrative reasons.” Dorsey said school safety is of paramount importance to him.

“As an agency head you have to paint with a broad brush. But you have to use the smaller brushes as well. There are big picture things to deal with, but you also have to be involved in smaller details,” Dorsey said.

In terms of some housecleaning, Dorsey did confirm that Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and Lt. Johnny Neal, who were indicted along with Underwood “are no longer employed by the sheriff’s office.”

Dorsey knows that his appointment could be short-lived. Because Dorsey can’t hold two commissions at once, he is giving up his position at SLED (where he has worked since he was 19) to take the interim sheriff’s job. If Underwood is exonerated he will be reinstated as sheriff which would leave Dorsey without a job. He said it’s worth it to him to serve his hometown. If citizens are going to put their faith in him to hold an important office, he said he has to be willing to take a leap of faith too.