Canton Hires New Police Chief Amid Morale & Unstable Reputation
CANTON – (WAOK/AJC) - The City of Canton announced Monday it has a new police chief, aimed at boosting morale and the department’s reputation, which has been tainted since accusations that the department botched and mishandled the murder investigation of 7 -year-old Jorelys Rivera last December. Florida lawman, 56-year old Robert Merchant is the retired chief of the Altamonte Springs, Fla. police department, roughly twice the size of Canton’s, which has about 43 uniformed officers. City manager, Scott Wood, said he starts the first week of June, at a salary of $94,500. He will replace Todd VandeZande, interim chief since chief Jeff Lance was forced to resign last January after an outside audit found he and his department mishandled the first few hours of the search and investigation when Rivera was reported missing Dec. 2 from a playground at the River Ridge at Canton apartment complex. Her body was found three days later, discarded in a trash compactor a few hundred yards from where she was last seen. The audit determined Canton Police could not have saved her life if they had acted faster, but their procedures were so flawed they could cost a life next time. Apartment maintenance man Ryan Brunn was arrested two days after her body was discovered. He pleaded guilty to Rivera’s murder and committed suicide in prison the same week Chief Lance was forced to resign. Merchant said he’s made no decisions about staffing or changes in department policy until he joins the force and learns his way around the department, and the city.