Federal officials have charged three suspects from Lancaster with possession of a grenade launcher, machine guns, other weapons and military gear that was stolen from the Army National Guard armory.
Officials recently seized many of the weapons and other military gear, including night vision goggles. However at least three machine guns still are missing, federal officials said. It’s not known who stole the weapons and other equipment. Federal documents indicate that the three suspects tried to sell the items.
Brandon Shane Polston, 32, Austin Lee Ritter, 23, and Kimberly Denise Cannon, 39, all of Lancaster, were indicted Wednesday in federal court. They each are charged with having the machine guns and grenade launcher, according to federal prosecutors and court documents. The three also face weapons and receiving stolen goods charges in Lancaster County, based on the gun seizure, records show.
Lancaster police told Lancaster National Guard officials that a police officer saw two machine guns during a Nov. 26 traffic stop, according to a federal department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms affidavit.
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After the weapons had been seized during the traffic stop, Lancaster police went the same day to the armory on Nichols Road. Policemen found the doors and gun vault unsecured, federal officials said in the affidavit. A team from the State Law Enforcement Division responded, and found that National Guard officials at the armory were “unaware of the theft of items and the unsecured building...,” the federal affidavit said.
SLED agents found a perimeter door at the armory was not secure, the door to the weapons vault was not secure and the weapons racks were unlocked, federal officials said.
Lt. Col. Cindi King, a spokesperson for the S.C. National Guard, said the federal investigation is ongoing. King said the National Guard “deeply appreciates” the efforts by local, state, and federal police.
Randy Newman, 6th Circuit Solicitor, said “This is a joint effort between my office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This is an effort to control gun crimes and drug crimes in our communities.”
The affidavit from the ATF agent involved in the investigation gives details on how Polston, Ritter and Cannon were arrested.
Cannon was pulled over on S.C. 9 by a Lancaster police officer because of litter from her vehicle.
The officer “observed two firearms in plain view” on the back seat, an affidavit from an ATF agent states. Cannon was taken into custody and charged with open container violation, no insurance and improper license tag.
Lancaster officers searched the vehicle and found machine guns, the grenade launcher, pistols, night vision goggles, mosquito netting and other military equipment, the federal affidavit states. A tag on one of the items showed it belonged to the Lancaster Army National Guard unit.
Cannon told police she was staying at the Carriage Inn in Lancaster with Polston and Ritter. Police went to the motel, where drugs were found. Ritter and Polston were taken into custody and charged with methamphetamine possession, officials said.
Investigators reviewed images from a motel security camera where the three suspects were staying. They saw the suspects carrying blankets and bags that police believe held the guns and stolen materials, the ATF said.
Cannon told police in an interview that Ritter and Postoln retrieved the guns from a ditch across the street from the armory. Ritter told police he and Polston got the weapons from an apartment complex across the street from the National Guard armory, the affidavit states.
A search warrant was used to access the cell phones of Ritter, Cannon and Polston. Text messages from Ritter’s phone state the suspects were trying to sell a machine gun for $500, and the suspects were seeking ammunition, officials said. Included on Ritter’s phone was a “selfie” photo that showed a machine gun, federal officials said.
“Hit me up big BUSINESS,” says one message seized from a suspect’s phone, according to an ATF agent affidavit submitted to the federal court.
“”Fully auto AR-16,” said another message.
“I’m pulled w major guns” said a third message.
Polston has a history of convictions that include burglary, assault and battery and receiving stolen goods, records show. Ritter has a felony conviction for accessory to a felony and Cannon has convictions in South Carolina and North Carolina, records show.
Federal officials put a hold on all three suspects, placed in the Lancaster County jail after their arrest, said Doug Barfield, spokesman for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county jail.
Ritter and Cannon each pleaded not guilty in a federal court hearing Thursday morning in Columbia and are being held without bond. Polston remains in the Lancaster County jail and has yet to appear in federal court.
Polston, Ritter and Cannon each face as much as 30 years in prison if convicted on all three federal indictments.