Canton Police Department Investigation

August 09, 2023

Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Office issued a joint press release about the Canton Police Department Investigation. In May 2022, Canton Mayor Jarrod Phillips contacted the Lewis County Sheriff to report the Canton Police Department had recently undergone mass personnel resignations and would be down to one officer, Justin Allen. Chief Ryan Crandall was one of the individuals who had resigned. A short time later, Phillips requested an investigation after the City discovered an issue with evidence being stored at the Department; it was reported that they had discovered bags of evidence had been tampered with and there was missing methamphetamine, marijuana, fentanyl, hydrocodone pills, methadone, and a variety of other pills. In June 2022, Sheriff Parrish requested assistance from the Missouri State Highway Patrol Division of Drug and Crime Control, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After a considerable delay, a special investigation into the Canton Police Department began in September 2022.

That investigation began with the scheduling of preliminary interviews with past and present members of the Department. However, shortly thereafter, the investigative team was advised that the City of Canton had hired an attorney to represent said persons, and then acting Chief, Justin Allen, contacted those individuals to advise that they were not to speak with investigators until they had met with the City’s attorney, thus stalling proceedings of the investigation. After months of delay, numerous interviews were finally conducted with past and present members of the Canton Police Department. The results of that investigation led to the following findings: In 2015, approximately $1,000.00 was stolen from the evidence room under Chief Crandall’s regime; currency that had been ordered by the Court to be returned to its owner. The City did not open an investigation and did not refer the matter to an outside agency. Rather, the City Council voted to replace the money with funds from the general revenue, without notifying the Prosecutor’s Office or Court. It should be noted that in 2018, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigated former Canton Police Sergeant Ryan Clanton for pawning a Department owned patrol rifle, for which he was subsequently prosecuted and pled guilty.

Further in 2021, then Chief Ryan Crandall reported that a Glock .40 caliber handgun, seized in 2008, had been stolen from the evidence room. At that time, Chief Crandall admitted that an evidence audit had never been conducted and he could not identify whom might have taken the firearm. In January 2022, Lewis County Coroner, Larry Arnold, contacted the Canton Police Department regarding information on medication seized by the Police Department during the Course of a non-suspicious death investigation in Canton. The Police Department was initially unable to locate said medication. Several weeks later, Justin Allen advised Coroner Arnold that the pills had been located and were all accounted for. During interviews held as a part of this investigation, Investigators learned that while the pill bottles had in fact been located, but the contents of them, were not. This matter was again not referred to an outside agency at the time of discovery, rather, Officer’s reported the issue to Mayor Phillips, whose response was the issuance of a directive to the Police Department that they were no longer to participate in the drug take back program. It should be noted this took place in February, and an outside agency was not contacted until May 2022.

The investigation conducted by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and Missouri State Highway Patrol further yielded that hundreds of items of evidence had been tampered with and/or stolen, including U.S. Currency, hundreds of pills, both controlled and non-controlled substances, as well as a handgun. Due to a serious lack of institutional controls and procedures at the Canton Police Department, formal charges for criminal misconduct cannot be filed by Lewis County Prosecutor Chelsea Fellinger as too many people had access to the evidence room, evidence locker and evidence keys, and no definitive proof to hold any individual persons accountable could be ascertained despite nearly a yearlong investigation and exhaustive efforts by the investigating agencies.

On May 19, 2023, Prosecutor Fellinger sent formal notice to the City of Canton, the City Attorney, Chief of Police, and all Alderman, wherein she advised that upon reviewing the reports generated following the aforementioned special investigation, because no one person could be held criminally accountable for what had occurred, she must hold the department as a whole and the City responsible. That the results of this investigation and the prior history of the Department which she had come to be aware of, which include, but are not limited to a chief who was fired after pulling a rifle on a professor at Culver-Stockton College; a chief who was federally indicted for purchasing a firearm for a felon; an officer arrested for driving while intoxicated, but permitted to stay on the job, the same officer who was later prosecuted for having sex with a minor child; stolen money; stolen guns; firearms being discharged in the station; and most recently, a chief of police with a drug addiction that was concealed and deemed a personnel issue, call into question the Department’s reliability and integrity, raising the issue of credibility for any investigation conducted by it. She further advised, that because of her duty to the citizens of this County and her ethical obligations to the State of Missouri, her office would not file any cases investigated by the Canton Police Department, unless assisted by an outside agency and that the Canton Police Department was not to collect, or store any items of evidence until further notice.

A response to that correspondence was not received from the City until June 22, 2023, and the acting Chief’s stance and actions demonstrated that the position taken was to disregard that directive, despite the warned consequences, and to conduct business as usual.

On July 31, 2023, a Special Board Meeting was held by the Board of Aldermen for the City of Canton to discuss the status of the Canton Police Department. No clear plan for moving forward was ascertained at that time. Presently, the Canton Police Department remains operable, staffed by three law enforcement officers that were recently hired to the Department. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has extended its services to those young officers to assist with any calls for which they might be dispatched and will work, as it always has, to ensure the safety of the residents of this County and the City of Canton. The Lewis County Sheriff and Prosecutor have personally met with an attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and hand delivered the investigative file for further consideration.

The City of Canton issued a press release that was unsigned but the Press-News Journal learned that the letter was generated by Craig Smith with the law firm of Curtis, Heinz, Garrett, O’Keefe, the outside agency hired by the City of Canton. The press release was as follows:

Since May of 2022, the City of Canton has been cooperating with numerous state and local investigators regarding concerns resulting from apparent evidence tampering at the Canton Police Department. 

As a result of countless hours of investigation, it has become evident that former police officers did not follow best practices, police standards or evidence standards for peace officers. The City of Canton has invoked numerous resources including retaining special counsel and cooperating with outside agencies to determine if criminal charges could be able to be brought against any former officers for this inexcusable violation of the law and public trust. Police officers are sworn to serve and protect. Simply put, these former officers engaged in unacceptable, inappropriate behavior that destroyed and neglected. 

As soon as city leadership discovered allegations of wrongdoing, the City began working with our risk management agency and recommended attorneys with specialized expertise, throughout the investigative process to ensure that all integrity would be maintained as the City complied with independent agencies. This large task took a coordinated effort to conduct numerous interviews throughout the investigation while providing constitutionally allowed legal representation to our employees. The assertion that obtaining legal counsel is unacceptable and an attempt to delay the investigation is false. 

During the initial meeting disclosing the evidence irregularities, Lewis County Sheriff, David Parish had a closed-door conversation with the former Mayor. At that time, the Sheriff stated that the City of Canton would be better off turning over law enforcement services and the budgeted monies for the police department to the Lewis County Sheriff’s office. Removing local control of the police who enforce community standards as Sheriff Parish suggested would be inappropriate and disenfranchise all voters in the great City of Canton. 

One should ask, if the corruption from the department effectively renders it useless then why does the sheriff’s office continue to poach officers from the Canton Police Department for the Lewis County Sheriff’s office? The investigation found that former City of Canton police officers are now working in the Lewis County Sheriff’s office. While the joint press release from the county sheriff and county prosecutor attempts to provide an accounting of the situation, it is a poor attempt to place politics before people. 

The City of Canton agrees that more effective police policies and leadership needs to be in place and continues to work toward that goal. To this end, Mayor Phillips has stepped down after decades of service to lead the city in a new role as a citizen. Systems keep us safe. We are ashamed and disappointed that this is the course of action the Lewis County Sheriff has chosen to pursue. One must ask: Why is this statement being released prior to a public meeting that would allow the citizens to have input onto whether or not the city should maintain a police force? Further, the release states that the sheriff and prosecutor have personally met with the U.S. Attorney’s office and delivered the file to them for further consideration. This divisive behavior and attitude only serves one purpose: to weaponize the mistakes of former officers that have been separated from employment. The personal attacks on city leadership further demonstrate that Sheriff Parrish in engaging in a poorly veiled attempt to stage a hostile takeover of the City of Canton. The conclusion of the investigation is simple: The Sherrif and County Prosecutor are militarizing the mistakes of former employees by attacking the current police department and elected officials in the City of Canton. (end of press release).

Mayor Jarrod Phillips resigned his position effective on August 8.

Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish said, “As always, the members of the sheriff’s office remain committed to the safety and protection of all Lewis County residents. We will continue to patrol and investigate crimes throughout Lewis County and it includes the City of Canton.”