August 4, 2023
The Canton Police Department was put under investigation in May of 2022 after Canton Mayor Jarrod Phillips reported a number of employees had resigned.
The investigation found over the course of seven years there has been a laundry list of misconduct at the Canton Police Station: missing drugs, stolen money, stolen guns, firearms being discharged in the station, and an officer arrested for DWI, but permitted to stay on the job. That same officer was later prosecuted for having sex with a child. One chief was fired after pulling a rifle on a professor at Culver-Stockton College, and another chief was federally indicted for purchasing a firearm for a felon. (See the full details in the news release at the bottom of this article)
Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish says maintaining the evidence chain is law enforcement 101 and the fact that this issue was present at the Canton Police Department raised concerns.
"Potentially someone had gotten arrested or there was a victim of that crime," said Parrish. "That's why you took the evidence, and so it's a major, astonishing problem."
In September of 2022, a special investigation was launched by the Lewis County Sheriff's Department with assistance from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Lewis County Prosecutor Chelsea Fellinger says although items in the evidence locker had been tampered with, she didn't believe it had an impact on any cases her office has handled.
"I don't have a reason to believe that any cases that have been handled through this office, in the past, were affected by that," Fellinger said.
However, those actions have caused her office to take precaution.
"The integrity in moving forward is why I had made the directive back in may, after reviewing the investigation that was referred to me, that cases handled within the city of canton by the canton police department would need to be assisted by an outside agency, and that the city was not to handle any evidence," said Fellinger.Caption: Investigation finds misconduct at Canton Police Department. (KHQA)
The Canton Police Department remains in operation with three newly hired officers.
Parrish says the county is working with these young officers to ensure the safety of the Canton community.
"They are working with my deputies or with the Highway Patrol or with the LaGrange Police Department to make sure that they are doing things correctly," said Parrish.
Parrish says this isn't the first time the county has had to take calls in Canton, but he hopes this will be the last.
He says the Lewis County Sheriff's Department wants to do whatever it takes to help find a solution.
"We want to be a part of the resolution here, and we hope they will comply with the prosecutor's directives," Parrish said.
The question remains--how does the Canton Police Department regain the trust from the community?
Parrish says he believes that depends on how much they will tolerate, but Fellinger says that starts with being transparent.
"The citizens need to be aware of what is going on and to put the city of Canton in a position of recognizing that it really is time for a change," Fellinger said.
I spoke with Canton Mayor Jarrod Phillips to discuss the future of the police department.
He says that answer will be answered better after hearing from the citizens at a town hall in the coming days.