It’s been 30 days since arrest warrants for “possession of marijuana” and “illegal possession of prescription drugs” were written for former Mobile County deputy Chris Parsons.
Though Parsons has yet to be arrested, his former employer has taken scores of other similarly nonviolent drug offenders to jail since then including more than two dozen charged with the exact same offenses.
Jail records indicate the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office made 29 arrests for marijuana possession and four arrests for illegal possession of prescription drugs since Parsons’ warrants were approved on March 27. When asked about the numbers, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said, “there are several different ways every case is handled based on the circumstances in that case.“Most of those possession cases where we arrest someone are usually people that are dealing in drugs,” Cochran said. “This was a case where an employee had a drug addiction, and we, in essence, investigated and set up the scenario that led to him being caught in possession, and he’s going to suffer serious sanctions because he was a law officer.”
“There are a number of companies that have employees with drug addictions — it’s a national epidemic,” he added. “[Parsons] wasn’t dealing or selling, he was using, and we essentially set the circumstances up so we could catch and remove him from the department.”
However, Lagniappe’s review of MCSO arrests intentionally excluded persons whose charges included an element of distribution or violence. Of those 58 recorded drug arrests, 14 stemmed from the possession of a controlled substance charges and 26 were misdemeanor charges for possessing drug paraphernalia.
All of those charges resulted in an arrest, though some apply to the same individual, and some suspects surrendered to MCSO under their own recognizance. A full list of those arrests and charges can be seen here.
MCSO spokeswoman Lori Myles, who disputed some of the arrest numbers, said Parsons’ case differs from many because it was part of an “undercover narcotics” investigation — drawing a parallel to a recent undercover operation that led to the arrest of 23 people in March.
“Theses arrests were part of an ongoing investigation that our undercover narcotic deputies and U.S. Marshals had been working on for six months,” Myles said. “When the investigation was complete, we made the arrest.”
Notably, MCSO’s investigation into Parsons’ actions was completed March 27, the starting date of Lagniappe’s records review.Parsons was terminated after he was caught buying illegal drugs in a sting operation executed by the MCSO and the Saraland Police Department on March 6. Marijuana and another “controlled substance” were later found in Parsons’ patrol car.
When the MCSO turned its investigation over to Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich on March 27, it was accompanied by a request from Cochran that Parsons’ case go before a grand jury.
Rich denied Cochran’s request, claiming there was “no legitimate reason” to deviate from the “normal screening process” and present the case to a grand jury.
Though MCSO officials have definitely said Parsons “will be arrested and face charges,” the month-long delay has prompted accusations of preferential treatment because of Parson’s former position with MCSO. His father, Lonnie Parsons, is also the chief of support services for the office.
However, MCSO continues to maintain that Parsons’case should be presented to a grand jury to accelerate the process, protect the identity of undercover informants and prevent the agency from altering the investigation by making an arrest.
“MCSO, with our undercover narcotics team, investigated this case, and we work very hard to protect their identity for any future investigations,” Myles said. “Because of the media exposure of the case, and the reasons stated above, we knew the case would be best presented to the grand jury. We also knew the subject being investigated.”
This week, Cochran suggested any delay in Parsons’ arrest was coming from Rich’s office, claiming MCSO’s role “started and ended” when it turned over its investigation last month. He also said he’s recommended similar cases go to a grand jury “numerous times.”
Specifically, Cochran said the case against former deputy Clifton Wayne Holifield Jr. was presented to a grand jury, adding he was “trying to be consistent [with Parsons’ case], if anything.”
Holifield turned himself in and was formally charged the day MCSO released allegations that he’d been stealing controlled substances from evidence seized by the department.
Similar to Parsons’, Holifield’s actions were discovered after an internal investigation. Documents provided by MCSO indicate the office turned their investigation over to Rich’s office on Jan. 21, 2015, though Holifield wasn’t indicted until five months later.
Cochran also again mentioned Parsons’ ongoing drug treatment as another reason for delaying the signing of his arrest warrants.
“[Rich] knows that [Parsons] has since put himself in a treatment program,” Cochran said. “She might have wanted him arrested at the time, but we didn’t feel like rushing out and arresting him while he’s checked himself into a treatment center.”
Earlier this week, Rich rejected many of Cochran’s claims and said nothing had changed in her office since the warrants for Parsons’ arrest were prepared a month ago. Rich also said, since becoming the district attorney in 2012, she’s never seen a case handled this way.
“The warrants are ready to be signed in my office, but the sheriff instructed two of his employees not to come and sign them, and that’s where this case has been left,” she said. “He can send them over here at any point in time — it’s that plain and simple.”
Lagniappe also reached out to the Saraland Police Department for a comment on its involvement in Parsons’ investigation and pending arrest, but no response was received from Public Information Officer Gary Cole in time for this report.
Rich noted the employee needed to sign Parsons’ arrest warrant for Saraland has since become an MCSO employee. On Tuesday, Myles confirmed Greg O’Shea — a previous MCSO employee — had left SPD to rejoin the sheriff’s staff.
Though O’Shea assisted with MCSO’s undercover narcotics operations during the time of its investigation into Parsons, Myles said he was employed by the city of Saraland and not MCSO at the time. He was officially sworn in as an MCSO employee April 25.
*updated on April 27 to clarify the 2015 investigaton and arrest of former MCSO deputy Clifton Wayne Holifield Jr.