CANTON — The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has opened a criminal investigation into the Canton Police Department after a state audit revealed cash seized from two drug suspects was missing from the police department's evidence room.
The discovery of missing funds adds to the travails of the department, which was already under fire for its alleged mishandling of an incident last August in which a loaded .22-caliber revolver was found on the floor in a staff bathroom at Canton Elementary School.
A sheriff's office investigation into the gun incident led to a misdemeanor criminal charge of obstructing an officer being filed against then-Canton Police Chief Robert Martin Murray, 47, and misdemeanor charge of possession of a weapon on school property being filed against Shana Dighton, 32, who was a teacher's aide at the time.
Dighton, who was identified in a court affidavit as the police chief's girlfriend, told an investigator that the gun had fallen out of her pocket and she had forgotten it was there.
Murray was charged with obstruction after he allegedly attempted to thwart an investigation by giving the gun back to Dighton and telling an investigator that the school had stated it had handled the situation and didn't want an investigation.
Murray is no longer police chief and Dighton is no longer a Canton teacher's aide. Criminal charges remain pending against both.
Meanwhile, the OSBI investigation into missing drug asset forfeiture funds also is still pending.
The $627 in missing cash was seized from suspects in two Blaine County drug cases. One case involved $375 and the other $252.
District Attorney Mike Fields said that under procedures in place at the time, it was the Canton Police Department's responsibility to safeguard the money in its evidence room while Fields' office carried out legal procedures necessary to get the cash forfeited.
But state auditors were unable to locate the money when they searched for it.
"It is our understanding that at the time the auditor inquired of the Canton Police Department if it had possession of the money, the chief of police had recently left the department," Fields said. "Apparently, auditors were told he had the one and only key to the evidence room where the money was believed to be kept, and the auditors (nor anyone else) had the ability to get into the evidence room to look for the money."
Fields said his office contacted the police department and was told the new police chief had looked for the money in the evidence room but was unable to find it.From the homepage'I've never seen anything like this:' Fans react to Thunder-Jazz postponementSportsUpdated: 18 hours ago
The new police chief and Fields both requested the OSBI investigation that is currently underway, Fields said.
The district attorney said he doesn't believe either of the two drug suspects involved in the cash seizures is owed any money back. In the case involving the $375 seizure, a judge ordered the money forfeited to the state in April 2018 and it should have been turned over to the county treasurer, Fields said.
The other case is still pending, but the suspect was notified of the state's intent to seek forfeiture of the cash and failed to respond in a timely manner, so the state would appear to be entitled to a judgment, the district attorney said.
State auditors examined the drug asset forfeiture program throughout Fields' prosecutorial district and cited additional problems in four counties:
Fields said the audit has prompted him to change the way seized cash is handled in his district while awaiting the filing and completion of forfeiture proceedings. Instead of having seizing agencies hold onto the cash during forfeiture litigation, the agencies will now be required to photograph the money and deposit it into an account with the county treasurer within one business day of the seizure.
"This procedure will ensure that the whereabouts of the cash are known to us during the pendency of the case and should virtually eliminate the possibility that the seizing agency misplaces, steals, loses, or inadvertently disposes of the cash in a way that is not consistent with an order of the court or state law," Fields stated in his audit response.
Fields said he also will no longer prosecute forfeiture actions involving less than $2,000 without a clear justification from the seizing agency as to why an exception should be made to the policy.
"By raising the threshold, I think we increase the likelihood of the oversight becoming greater," Fields said.