When the sheriff waged a war on drugs in a Mississippi county

No-knock raids were the rule rather than the exception, and they led to serious allegations against the department. The sheriff defended his tenure, saying “we cleaned this county up.”

Cecil Cantrell served as sheriff in Monroe County, Miss. (Photo illustration by Emily Sabens/The Washington Post; Monroe County Sheriff’s Department; iStock)
Cecil Cantrell served as sheriff in Monroe County, Miss. (Photo illustration by Emily Sabens/The Washington Post; Monroe County Sheriff’s Department; iStock)

This story is part of our reporting for the investigative podcast “Broken Doors.” Hosted by Jenn Abelson and Nicole Dungca, the six-part audio series examines how no-knock warrants are deployed in the American justice system — and what happens when accountability is flawed at every level.

SMITHVILLE, Miss. — It was a Saturday night in November not long before Thanksgiving when Joe Wade Jr. called his girlfriend with a threat.

Eva York had left him after another fight and was staying with a friend, Bengie Edwards.

“You need to leave and take your kids with you, or I’m going to call the sheriff and tell him that Bengie’s selling drugs,” Wade said.

York, watching a movie with Edwards and her two children in the living room, refused to leave.

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Edwards had already gone to bed by the time York’s son got a bizarre text from Wade — a recording of the song from the television show “Cops”: “Whatcha gonna do when they come for you.”

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Wade and York described what happened the night of the raid in separate police interviews.

Suddenly, around 9:30 p.m., Monroe County deputies smashed a battering ram into Edwards’s front door and stormed inside.

Edwards shot up in bed. He started putting on his socks when someone shined a flashlight into his eyes and pointed a gun at his head. Deputies threw the wiry 53-year-old to the floor and handcuffed him.

York and the kids watched in silence as deputies pulled out dresser drawers, emptied kitchen cabinets and tore down wood paneling. Edwards said he heard officers laugh as they ransacked the mint green home his parents had built in the 1960s.

Deputies took about $15 of loose cocaine sitting on a dresser in plain sight. But they were also looking for something else.

“Where’s the money? Where’s the money?” they yelled. “Where’s the money?”

Edwards, handcuffed and shirtless, had no idea what was happening. He could barely pay his bills after working long hours at a furniture factory.

[What to know about no-knock warrants]

He couldn’t figure out why Sheriff Cecil Cantrell — the county’s most powerful law enforcement officer — was standing in his living room. Edwards didn’t know that Eric Sloan, the head narcotics officer, had obtained a search warrant for his home.

Deputies emptied Edwards’s wallet and a jar of silver dollars he had been saving — about $96 total. They also took two cars from his front yard and his father’s old revolver. But deputies found no other drugs. Then they shoved Edwards out the front door and into the back of a cruiser, bound for the county jail.

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The Post obtained search warrant records, including an inventory list, and interviewed Edwards about the raid.

That same night, Wade said he sent Edwards, who is Black, a text: “That’s what you get messing with a white girl.”

A rural war on drugs

The 2014 raid on Edwards’s home was a no-knock, one of the most dangerous and intrusive policing tactics, in which officers force their way into homes without warning. These high-risk searches were intended to be used sparingly. But over the years, police have increasingly deployed no-knock raids across the country, with little pushback from judges who sign off on the warrants.

And in Monroe County, no-knocks were the rule rather than the exception. Cantrell, elected in 2011 on a promise to crack down on crime, waged a war on drugs for years in this rural community of roughly 35,000 residents. The same judge routinely signed off on no-knock warrants, including the one for Edwards’s home.

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Sloan said in a deposition that deputies carried out hundreds of no-knock searches, although the county and courts have little record of them. The sheriff attended many drug busts, often posing for the local television cameras with the spoils of the seizures.

The Post’s investigation into these drug raids revealed broader allegations that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office had abused its power and trampled on the rights of residents. There were complaints of corruption, sexual misconduct and excessive force. Some of these accusations eventually drew the scrutiny of state investigators and the FBI.

Cantrell declined to answer questions about the raids, including how many happened under his watch. He also wouldn’t discuss allegations of misconduct. But in an interview with The Post, he spoke expansively about his priorities while in office.

“I decided if this county was going to be cleaned up, that it had to start with the sheriff,” he said, sitting on the porch of his home last summer. “Nobody had ever cleaned this county up. I’m talking about nobody. And I got me some good deputies and we went to work. We worked day and night. I worked, honestly, seven days a week and seven nights a week.

“The thugs, the people that don’t believe in law enforcement ... that break in your houses, steal your guns, steal your furniture, steal your TVs. These people, most of them were drug addicts. … I decided, well, we’re going to clean her up, boys. And we did, ma’am. We cleaned this county up. ”

Cantrell grew up in Monroe County, a quiet pocket in the northeastern corner of Mississippi, and played football in junior college. He spent about two decades as a justice court judge, officiating marriages for lots of couples here in the heart of the Bible Belt.

During his time on the bench, Cantrell was publicly reprimanded by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance for two instances of misconduct. This included a complaint that Cantrell issued an arrest warrant at the request of a car dealer for a customer who the dealer said owed money.

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Cantrell said he issued the warrant but later argued that he shouldn’t be publicly reprimanded, according to the commission’s records.

Cantrell, who is White, ran unsuccessfully for sheriff twice before his third try in 2011, when he vowed to end the scourge of drugs.

Meth and opioids had taken root in Monroe County, like they had in so many communities. But it can be difficult to measure the problem because many overdose cases go undocumented. From 1999 through 2020, 47 overdose deaths were reported to health officials, and the county’s drug overdose death rate consistently ranked below state and national averages.

Cantrell was 61 and had no law enforcement experience. But his message resonated. He won in a landslide and took office in January 2012. He oversaw a few dozen deputies, including Sloan, whom he quickly promoted to the narcotics unit. Sloan had about eight years on the force and, at around 6 foot 5, cut an imposing figure.

When Cantrell got a call about cocaine at Edwards’s house on that Saturday night in November, Sloan requested a no-knock warrant.

Sloan, who is White, typed up an affidavit stating that a confidential source told the sheriff that Edwards was selling crack cocaine from his residence and had seen a half-ounce within the past 72 hours.

Sloan didn’t sign the affidavit — the document swearing that everything was true — but Judge Robert Fowlkes approved the warrant anyway.

Edwards was released without charge after about three days in jail. A few months later, he ran into Wade at a barbecue. Edwards claimed that Wade taunted him with racial slurs. It turned into a fight. Wade stabbed Edwards, and Edwards fired a gun at Wade, leaving him with a gash on his head. Both men landed in the hospital — but only Edwards ended up behind bars with an aggravated assault charge.

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Wade, in a police interview, described his injuries and said he tried to stab Edwards’s arm to move the gun. Amory, Miss., police said they took Edwards to the hospital but did not arrest Wade “based on the totality of circumstances.”

Police in nearby Amory interviewed Wade, who was 45 and also had a criminal record. Wade told police that the fight stemmed from the call he’d made to the sheriff months earlier.

“So I called Cecil and I told him the deal. I’d currently bought drugs from Bengie before a year or so past ago,” Wade said. “And I knew where he kept his drugs.”

His account conflicted with what Sloan wrote in the affidavit — that the confidential source had seen drugs in Edwards’s home within the past 72 hours.

The detective then asked how Wade knew that the sheriff had actually gone to Edwards’s house.

“I called Cecil back and asked him if he had took care of the matter and he said he did,” Wade said. “That they had busted in. They found the kids there and Eva and they locked Bengie up.”

Edwards said the drugs actually belonged to Wade’s girlfriend, York. Police never brought charges against her.

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Wade recounted the conversation in a recorded police interview. Wade and York did not return messages seeking comment. Cantrell declined to discuss individual raids.

Edwards spent several weeks in the Amory jail before a judge denied him bond on the assault charge. He was eventually transferred to the Monroe County Detention Center, where he would sit behind bars for months.

‘You can tell me something’

Cantrell’s war on drugs began almost as soon as he took office. His deputies quickly ratcheted up arrests and drug-bust seizures — taking cars, trucks, TVs, guns and cash. The value of money and property seized jumped from around $12,000 the year before Cantrell took over to more than $68,000 in 2013 — nearly double the average annual household income here.

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The Post analyzed forfeiture records from the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit and court records. The totals for 2011 and 2013 include only property with a documented dollar value.

But there were early controversies at the sheriff’s office, especially with Sloan, Cantrell’s new narcotics agent. In January 2013, the county paid about $1,200 to a Black man who filed a lawsuit that accused Sloan of illegally confiscating that amount after his car broke down. A few months later, another Black man contested more than $11,000 that Sloan seized during a traffic stop. A court ruled that all of the money had to be returned.

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When the county agreed to settle the lawsuit in January 2013, it admitted no wrongdoing.

In July 2013, Cantrell promoted 35-year-old Sloan to the head of the narcotics unit. Shortly after, the sheriff severed ties with the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit, the regional law enforcement group that worked together to make drug busts. This meant that the sheriff’s office got to keep the money, drugs and property seized during raids, rather than turn them over to the regional unit.

The sheriff’s office was still focused on drugs when they got a call in August 2015 from a woman reporting that armed intruders had stolen $235,000 from her home. She thought her friend Stephanie Herring might be involved.

Cantrell and Sloan paid Herring a visit. A 24-year-old single mom, Herring denied any wrongdoing and turned over her cellphone to prove it. But then Sloan found messages about drugs, and the conversation changed.

“We’re going to take you to jail,” Sloan said, “or you can tell me something and we can try to make this right.”

Herring directed deputies to a meth lab she knew about — back at the house that had just been robbed. But Sloan wasn’t finished with her. Over several days, he gave Herring a tour of the sheriff’s office and drove her around at night — alone. She was his newly minted confidential informant.

Sloan tasked her with finding the robbery money — and, she said, getting $10,000 so he could take his kids to Disney World. One night, she came home crying and told her mother that Sloan had sexually assaulted her.

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Herring recounted these events in statements to law enforcement and in a deposition. The Post interviewed Herring and her mother.

Sloan receives a body camera from Nancy Bishop in 2015, part of a fundraising effort after Sloan said he was shot during a 3 a.m. traffic stop. (Courtesy of the Monroe Journal)

Her mother pleaded with Herring to report Sloan, but Herring just wanted to clear her name.

She eventually found out that some of the stolen money had been stashed in a trailer in Nettleton, a town to the north near the county line. So she told Sloan.

Hours later, the local news reported that the head narcotics officer had been shot after pulling over a Black man on a motorcycle at 3 a.m. State investigators didn’t see any noticeable injuries — Sloan had been wearing a bulletproof vest.

Herring reached him on the phone. “Please tell me that you were not shot about that information that I gave you that night,” she said.

“I plead the Fifth,” he said. Sloan later told her he’d be on leave until at least November.

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These conversations are described in state investigative reports and court records obtained by The Post. Sloan, in a deposition, denied Herring’s accusations of extortion and sexual assault, saying: “I don’t know why she would make those claims against me.”

Days after the shooting, Herring was arrested in connection with the $235,000 robbery.

When Monroe County deputies questioned her, Herring immediately began talking about Sloan. The $10,000. Disney World. The assault. The trailer in Nettleton.

They brought her to Chief Deputy Curtis Knight, the second-in-command. Lt. Kenny Bailey with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was also in the office, taking notes. He asked her to take a polygraph test — and she passed.

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The Post reviewed copies of the polygraph records.

In late September 2015, Knight and Bailey met in Oxford, Miss., with officials from the district attorney’s office and the U.S. Justice Department to talk about Herring’s allegations. Investigators had discovered about 75 phone calls and texts between Sloan and Herring.

The FBI planned to investigate the corruption allegations and discussed having Herring offer Sloan $5,000 in exchange for dropping her case.

But the next day, state and county law enforcement told the FBI that Sloan had found out he was being investigated and that Herring was cooperating with law enforcement.

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The Post reviewed documents, including a memo from the sheriff’s office, about this meeting and communication the following day. The FBI and Bailey declined to comment.

One official involved in the discussion, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to talk publicly, couldn’t believe how quickly it ended: “That one just unfortunately was burned in the beginning.”

A familiar target

Cantrell knew Sloan was facing allegations of misconduct, but the sheriff was focused on the upcoming election in the fall of 2015. By then, Cantrell had established himself as a fixture on the news, showing up some days seemingly as often as the weather forecast.

In one local news report that year, Cantrell touted a historic roundup of alleged drug offenders, saying the sheriff’s office was seeking to arrest more than 400 people.

“That’s one reason our county’s gotten much safer, because we are after the drug dealers,” he told a reporter. “If you fool with drugs in Monroe County, you’re gonna pay the penalty of it.”

That year, the sheriff’s office would report to the state 45 drug-related arrests.

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The sheriff’s office did not report crime data to the FBI, and the district attorney’s office did not provide data on drug convictions.

Tanya Willems, who handled public relations for the sheriff’s office, said she believed “less than half of whatever” Cantrell said on the news. The sheriff didn’t care about cleaning up the county, Willems said: “It was for a vote. That’s all it was. So he could get reelected.”

As the election neared, Sloan returned from leave and the narcotics unit focused on a familiar target: Ricky Keeton. The sheriff and Keeton went way back — they had attended the same church when they were children. Cantrell and his deputies knew Keeton had a felony conviction for selling marijuana in the 1990s.

Almost two decades later, narcotics agents had been hearing that Keeton was “messing up,” and a confidential informant told Deputy Tony Coxey at least nine months earlier that Keeton was selling drugs.

Ricky Keeton and his longtime girlfriend, Wanda Stegall, at a family wedding. (Family photo)

On Oct. 27, 2015, Sloan and Coxey drove to the gravel dead-end road where Keeton lived and crept into a neighbor’s yard with night-vision goggles to conduct surveillance.

They recognized a green pickup truck in Keeton’s driveway. It belonged to the man who’d given Coxey the tip. Sloan ordered his deputies on patrol to stop and search the truck at their first opportunity.

Keeton was a big guy with an easy laugh, and everyone called him Round Man. He was White, with a long black and silver ponytail that hung down his back.

Keeton and his longtime girlfriend, Wanda Stegall, usually lived paycheck to paycheck. They hung a white poster board on the wall of their trailer with “Family Rules” written in marker: “Think of others before yourself! Always tell the truth!”

At 57, Keeton had smoked marijuana for decades, and had recently started using meth. Stegall said they smoked meth a couple of times a week but that they didn’t sell it.

Keeton spent most of his time in a red workshop next to their trailer, fixing cars and doing odd projects like converting a washing machine into a pea huller. He put up several game cameras outside after someone stole a couple of vehicles from the yard.

Keeton often had people helping him out around the property. Terry Parker was one of them.

That evening, Parker showed up in his green truck around dinnertime as Keeton and Stegall were sharing a barbecue chicken pizza. Parker said Keeton gave him some meth — but he didn’t pay Keeton any money.

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The Post reviewed depositions from Parker and Stegall.

After Parker left, Stegall and Keeton smoked meth and eventually headed to bed.

They fell asleep around 10 p.m. with the television on.

About a half-hour later, Monroe County deputies pulled over Parker on the side of the highway.

They found a few grams of meth wrapped in electrical tape in his truck. When narcotics agents arrived, Parker said he got the drugs from Keeton and that there was more at his home.

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Deputies described this traffic stop in depositions and written statements.

That was enough for Sloan to order up a raid. He called Cantrell, the sheriff, and alerted the SWAT team to meet at midnight in a government parking lot.

Coxey went to find Judge Robert Fowlkes. He was supportive of no-knock raids, believing the element of surprise was necessary for these drug busts.

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The Post interviewed Fowlkes about his views on no-knock warrants.

Fowlkes had never attended law school. He had served as a justice court judge since 1999 and had become the go-to judge for search warrants, sleeping with a phone by his bed so he could field requests from officers at all hours. He even signed off on warrants at the local steakhouse and a church parking lot where he had a side gig as a pastor.

On this October night, Coxey brought along an affidavit for a search warrant. It had the wrong town and Zip code for Keeton’s address. There was no justification for why it needed to be a no-knock, and it included only a sparse statement summarizing the investigation: A confidential source had seen Keeton in the past 72 hours with a crystal-like substance that he said was methamphetamine.

Coxey told him the raid could be dangerous because Keeton had dogs, and there was a possibility that he had weapons. Fowlkes signed off on it.

By the time Coxey returned to the parking lot, about a dozen people had gathered, including Cantrell. The SWAT team wrapped up the raid preparation, and then the men gathered in a circle and prayed.

A late-night raid

Shortly before 1 a.m., the sheriff and his deputies pulled onto the road where Keeton lived.

Cantrell stayed in his truck while the SWAT team, clad in bulletproof vests, climbed over a gate onto Keeton’s muddy driveway. They moved quickly in a single line along the side of the trailer to a small wooden porch in the back.

One deputy heaved a battering ram into the door, but it didn’t budge. Deputy Sam Mitchell grabbed another tool to try to pry it open.

Inside, Keeton woke Stegall up and told her someone was outside. She could hear banging. Keeton grabbed a small black pellet pistol, similar to a BB gun.

She saw Keeton open the door. Outside, Mitchell hollered, “Gun.”

The SWAT team later claimed that Keeton shot first — and that they didn’t realize he was holding a pellet pistol.

Five officers sprayed dozens of bullets across the trailer. Mitchell threw himself over the porch railing for cover after he said shrapnel hit his arm and face.

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Mitchell and other deputies described the raid in written statements and depositions.

Inside, Stegall dove under the bed. Terrified, she tried dialing 911.

When the gunfire finally stopped, she heard Keeton call from across the room, “Wanda, they got me.”

Deputies rushed inside the trailer. Stegall heard them yell over and over: “They’ve got cameras, they’ve got cameras, they’ve got cameras.”

One deputy handcuffed Stegall and tried moving her out of the bedroom. But Keeton’s body was blocking the doorway. She refused to walk over him.

Someone grabbed a tan blanket and placed it over his body.

Sloan called for an ambulance at 1 a.m.

When paramedics got to Keeton’s side at 1:17 a.m., Keeton was dead with six gunshot wounds.

[No-knock raids have led to fatal encounters and small drug seizures]

Knight, the chief deputy, called Bailey, of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the agency that typically investigates police shootings. He was the same official who had been looking into Herring’s accusations against Sloan just weeks earlier.

When Bailey arrived, he started asking Stegall questions under the harsh fluorescent lights by Keeton’s workshop.

“Did he think it was the police coming?”

“No, didn’t have any idea,” Stegall said, sobbing.

Then he took the deputies aside. Coxey seemed concerned that Keeton hadn’t understood what was going on.

“When I heard Sam holler ‘gun’ I screamed out ‘sheriff’s department’ to make sure that this guy knew that it was, you know, the sheriff’s department that was here and not somebody just breaking into his house on him,” Coxey told Bailey.

Sloan and the four deputies who fired their weapons wouldn’t answer any questions from state investigators. Instead, they called a lawyer.

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Stegall and Coxey recounted the raid in recorded interviews with a state investigator that night. Another state investigator noted that the deputies contacted a lawyer.

‘It was not done in a dirty way’

Hours later, the sheriff appeared on the local news to announce the raid. He said that Keeton had opened fire on officers — and that they found drugs, which he suggested were linked to a Mexican drug cartel.

“We do know that these drugs is hooked up with a Mexican cartel,” Cantrell said.

Keeton’s family didn’t buy that story. His daughter Robbie Geiger and four other relatives crammed into the sheriff’s office on Oct. 29, the day after the deadly raid, to get some answers. One of them secretly recorded the conversation on a cellphone.

They wanted to know why Keeton’s home had been raided late at night. “We want to know why it had to be done in a dirty way like that?” one asked.

“It was not done in a dirty way,” Cantrell said. “It was done in a lawful way. … The accusations you’re making are not true.”

Keeton’s relatives kept pelting him with questions. Why weren’t police wearing body cameras? Why was the sheriff talking about a Mexican drug cartel?

“I just don’t want his name put on TV saying anything else ugly about him — about him being with a drug cartel or anything else, just out of pure respect for me,” Geiger pleaded.

“Believe me, I respect him a lot more than you even know,” Cantrell said.

“I know you all were friends,” Geiger said.

“No, we were closer than friends,” he interrupted.

“So he wasn’t ambushed?” she asked one last time.

“No, ma’am.”

After confronting the sheriff, Keeton’s relatives drove to the trailer and met Bailey, from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. They counted about 49 holes on the outside of the trailer — 10 in the front door.

Inside, they saw how bullets pierced the refrigerator and shower and narrowly missed the poster board with the family rules.

Deputies had towed away vehicles, lawn mowers and welding machines. They hauled off boxes and bags filled with belongings. The cameras were also gone.

Keeton’s family wasn’t the only one with questions about the department’s tactics.

At least seven people had contested money and property seized under Cantrell in 2014 and 2015, and the county had to return about $27,000 along with several vehicles, including a 1960 Mercury Monterey.

One deputy described Cantrell’s instructions this way: “Seize everything.”

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The Post analyzed civil asset forfeiture cases in the county’s Circuit Court during this period. A deputy explained how the sheriff’s office approached seizures in a deposition.

It was less clear what happened to the property after that.

After Cantrell stopped working with the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit, the group fielded complaints from attorneys who said their clients’ property had been seized by the sheriff’s office without proper paperwork. Bruce Dodson, who heads the group, told them he wasn’t responsible, and that they would have to take it up with the sheriff.

Back then, police in Mississippi didn’t need a court order to seize property valued under $20,000. Instead, the county was supposed to send notices informing people about the seizures.

But Bengie Edwards said he never received any documentation for the $96 or the two cars deputies confiscated during the raid on his home — the one kicked off by York’s boyfriend. And Edwards never got the money or the vehicles back. County officials couldn’t find any notice for his case or other seizures like it from this period.

Dennis Thompson, a bail bondsman and longtime Monroe County resident, spent time in the jail’s booking area chatting with the deputies and the inmates. The sheriff’s office’s approach, as he remembered it, was simple: “Take the cash, keep the drugs, turn in a little bit, sell the rest.”

Thompson claimed that Sloan once asked him for investment advice for all the cash he had. The bail bondsman recalled the head narcotics officer saying he was going to be a millionaire.

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Cantrell did not respond to questions about the missing seizure paperwork or allegations that he and his deputies personally benefited from the drug raids. Sloan did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“I’m really ashamed of myself for not reporting Cecil. But in Mississippi, who the hell you gonna report anything to?” Thompson said. “The police are all powerful. They do everything. They’re next to Jesus.”

The aftermath

On Nov. 3, a week after Keeton’s death, the sheriff won another landslide election. But the fallout from the raids soon began piling up.

In January 2016, a Black woman, Cynthia Fuller, filed a lawsuit against Sloan and Monroe County alleging malicious prosecution for a drug raid she’d been swept up in years earlier at the home of her boyfriend, Unseld Parks. Herring’s accusations of sexual misconduct and extortion were included in court filings and made headlines. So did the question she’d raised about who actually shot Sloan.

After her accusations surfaced, Herring said cruisers regularly drove by her house, and she was pulled over several times by state and local police. She accumulated tickets she couldn’t pay, and she skipped court. She was scheduled to give a deposition in July for Fuller’s lawsuit. But several days before the hearing, Herring was picked up at her home on a warrant related to the traffic tickets and brought to the Monroe County jail. She sat there for nearly a month, and she said deputies pressured her to change her story about Sloan.

“You’d be taking a man’s job from him ... a very well-trusted man. Are you sure this really happened?” Herring recounted one deputy saying. “He was trying to get me to say that none of this happened.” She refused. In August she was released after settling about $1,000 in fines for the traffic violations, paid in cash and credit from time served in jail.

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Herring recounted this conversation in her deposition and interviews with The Post.

That same month, in August 2016, Cantrell was back on the local news. “Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell and his men have made what they are calling the ‘biggest crystal meth bust in the county’s history,’ ” the anchor said. Stegall’s mug shot appeared on the screen followed by a bag filled with a white substance.

Stegall saw the news from her childhood home, where she’d moved after the raid some nine months earlier. At age 63, she was plagued by nightmares of the raid and could no longer sleep in a bed, where she’d been with Keeton before bullets started flying.

Stegall knew there had been no second bust. A grand jury had just indicted her on a drug trafficking charge from the 2015 raid. Deputies had taken three months to submit the drugs they said they’d found in Keeton’s trailer to a crime lab, which identified about seven ounces total of amphetamine and methamphetamine.

Stegall was never named on the search warrant for the raid on their home, nor was she mentioned during the surveillance deputies conducted. But now she was being branded one of the biggest drug traffickers in the county.

Stegall nearly lost her job at the furniture factory because her boss thought she had been arrested again.

She eventually pleaded guilty to possession of between 10 and 30 grams of meth and ended up on probation.

Troubling details

After a grand jury declined to indict the deputies involved in the raid on Keeton’s home, Geiger and his other daughters filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Monroe County and Sloan. A few months later, Sloan and other deputies were summoned for depositions.

As Jim Waide, the lawyer for Keeton’s daughters, began asking questions, troubling details surfaced about what happened that night.

Sloan said he learned from Parker — the man deputies pulled over in the truck — that Keeton had $20,000 at his home. And that Keeton supposedly had ties to Mexican drug dealers. Then Sloan clarified he didn’t actually hear what Parker said to another narcotics agent.

Eventually, Waide began asking about no-knock raids.

“You have never personally participated in a search where you did a knock and gave a person a chance to come to the door?” Waide asked.

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This exchange is documented in Sloan’s deposition.

“Not to my recollection, no,” Sloan answered.

“How many of these no-knock search warrants would you say you’ve executed?”

“I can’t put a number on that,” he responded.

“Could you say hundreds?” Waide asked.

“Yeah, I think that’d be a fair statement.”

Fowlkes, the judge, testified that he couldn’t recall a time when he’d rejected a request for a search warrant.

“Do I hate that he got killed? Yes. Could it have been avoided? Yes,” Fowlkes later told The Post. “But I don’t think it had as much to do with the warrant. You know, we have to make decisions and sometimes the decision is not the best decision.”

During Cantrell’s deposition, the sheriff acknowledged that he made the final decisions as the top law enforcement officer. But Cantrell couldn’t explain why deputies didn’t do an undercover drug buy instead of trying to break down Keeton’s door. He didn’t know whether the property the sheriff’s office seized had been purchased with drug money.

“I can’t prove any of that,” Cantrell said. And he said he didn’t know where the cameras went after the raid.

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The Post reviewed Cantrell’s deposition.

A few days later, Sgt. Cory Burrow, with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, testified that the sheriff’s office had taken the cameras. When Burrow finally examined the images, they were obscured, as if someone had put a shirt or hand over the camera, before or during the shooting. So there were no pictures of deputies shooting. No pictures of Keeton getting shot. But there were images of the investigators walking around when the sun came up. Burrow couldn’t get clarification from any of the deputies who shot into Keeton’s trailer.

“Nobody would talk to me,” Burrow said.

Tough competition

By 2019, the sheriff was still on the news, promising to go after every last dealer.

Cantrell was also campaigning again. In one video, he bragged about making “almost 3,000 drug arrests” — a figure equal to nearly 10 percent of the county’s population — and asked voters “once again for your trust and faith in me.”

The official numbers reported to the state told a different story: The sheriff’s office reported 367 drug arrests for the entirety of Cantrell’s tenure.

After more than seven years in power, Cantrell was about to face his toughest competition: Kevin Crook — a former sheriff’s deputy turned judge — was running against him.

Then, just weeks before the election, a video surfaced on Facebook showing an inmate at the Monroe County jail assembling campaign signs for Cantrell.

Crook defeated Cantrell by about 1,000 votes. Soon after, the state auditor concluded that Cantrell’s use of inmate labor was illegal.

A Monroe County prosecutor declined to pursue the misdemeanor criminal case after Cantrell resigned with about four months left in office.

When asked later about his time as sheriff, Cantrell told The Post: “I did the best I could. ... I tried to do my job in a Christian manner.”

The fallout

Crook has since rejoined the regional narcotics unit, and trained deputies to approach no-knock raids more methodically. “Everything that you’ve been doing, we’re going to pretty much do the opposite of,” Crook told them in a swearing-in speech.

By the time Crook was sworn in, Keeton’s killing and no-knock raids had long faded from public view — and the local headlines. But in the fall of 2021, a local newspaper learned about public records The Post had obtained and requested identical copies. The local paper then published stories about Sloan and no-knock raids that Keeton’s daughter says led to online attacks against her family.

[5 takeaways from The Post’s investigation into no-knock warrants]

Waging this legal battle against Monroe County has left Geiger with deep wounds. She said she struggles with sleeping and panic attacks, and went thousands of dollars into debt. Settlement talks have gone nowhere. And Geiger is anxiously awaiting the trial after a judge recently pushed back the May date — one of several delays over the past year.

“I feel like it needs to be out there,” she said. “I know my father would rather me fight it to the death than just to give up and take money.”

Today, some residents in Monroe County are still grappling with Cantrell’s time as sheriff.

Edwards spent eight months in jail after the fight with Wade. Edwards lost his job and fell further into debt. It took two years for the state to indict him on gun and drug charges from the raid on his home. They were dropped after Edwards pleaded guilty to the assault, and he ended up on probation.

It was too overwhelming to stay in his ransacked childhood home, Edwards said, so he moved into a trailer a few feet away. He still has nightmares and worries deputies will come back for him.

“Ain’t nobody going to believe it,” Edwards said, shaking his head. “You’d have to live through it.”

Herring, the confidential informant who accused Sloan of misconduct, spent six years battling a conspiracy charge from that robbery. The state finally dropped the case earlier this year.

Herring says she hasn’t touched meth since she was jailed in 2016 for those unpaid traffic tickets, and is trying to focus on raising her young children.

With the criminal charge behind her, Herring’s biggest fear isn’t going back to jail anymore. It’s the return of Eric Sloan.

The head narcotics officer resigned just weeks after the deadly raid at Keeton’s trailer in 2015. He didn’t return messages seeking a comment, but his wife told The Post that “we will not ever be talking to you.”

During an interview last summer, the new sheriff said he was aware of the allegations against Sloan, but that ultimately Cantrell was responsible for a lot of what happened. And Crook said he would consider bringing Sloan back to the force.

“I consider him a good friend," Crook said. “I feel like he’s been the scapegoat for something that really wasn’t about him. And I feel like the man that was in the position to stop that from happening didn’t stop it.”

About this story

The reconstruction of events, including conversations, is based on hundreds of court documents and law enforcement records; hours of audio recordings; documents provided by sources and obtained through public records requests; and interviews with dozens of people in Mississippi.

Andrew Ba Tran, Nicole Dungca, Martine Powers, Nate Jones, Alice Crites, Hannah Thacker and Steven Rich contributed to this report.

Editing by Sarah Childress and David Fallis. Copy editing by Laura Michalski and Wayne Lockwood. Design and development by Jake Crump and Tara McCarty. Design editing by Christian Font. Photo editing by Robert Miller. Video production by Joy Sharon Yi. Video editing by Jayne Orenstein and Tom LeGro. Project editing by Courtney Kan and KC Schaper.

Episode 1

Broken Doors

With a typical search warrant, police are supposed to knock and announce themselves. But with no-knock warrants, police can force their way into people’s homes without warning. Hosted by Jenn Abelson and Nicole Dungca, “Broken Doors” is a six-part investigative podcast about how no-knock warrants are deployed in the American justice system — and what happens when accountability is flawed at every level. Learn more.

Updated May 11, 2022

Police reform in America