An Attorney Might Have Saved Andrew Sadek's Life


Andrew Sadek was a North Dakota student found dead after law enforcement used him as a criminal informant in drug deals. His mother now wants reforms to change the way cops use those sort of informants.

Would those reforms be good? First, some history on the case.

Andrew Sadek was a student at the North Dakota State College of Sciences in Wahpeton, North Dakota. In 2013 he was caught dealing marijuana on campus. Law enforcement told him during an aggressive interrogation that he could be charged with a Class A Felony and put in jail for 40 years. They used that potential legal trouble as pressure to flip Sadek into a criminal informant.

Sadek agreed to work as a CI in exchange for leniency on his own charges. He made multiple drug buys in late 2013 and early 2014 as an informant before ultimately ending his cooperation with law enforcement. The cops felt Sadek needed to make at least two more buys before fulfilling his obligation to them. On May 1 of 2014 Sadek went missing. Law enforcement issued an arrest warrant for him, assuming that he had walked away from his obligations as a criminal information.

Sadek’s body was found on June 27, 2014, in the Red River near Breckenridge, Minnesota, with a fatal gunshot wound to his head. He was wearing a backpack which had been filled with rocks. The weapon used hasn’t been found. Law enforcement officials say they cannot determine if the gunshot wound was self-inflicted or not. Sadek’s family feel he was murdered because he was identified as an informant for law enforcement.

I think the family may have the right of it.

Which brings us back to the reforms Tammy Sadek, Andrew’s mother, wants for law enforcement “[S]he wants North Dakota to adopt a law similar to one on the books in Florida that would prevent police from using informant work as a bargaining chip to get a lighter sentence,” the Fargo Forum reports.

Not surprisingly, law enforcement disagrees. “They’re adults. They’re making decisions on their own,” said Jason Weber, interim supervisor of Southeast Multi-County Agency Narcotics Task Force, or SEMCA, which is the organization Andrew Sadek was informing for. “These are individuals that know that if you sell drugs, that’s a bad thing. It’s against the law.”

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Andrew Sadek should have asked for an attorney. He should have had competent counsel sitting next to him in that interrogation room. He should have had a legal expert available to dispel some of the bluster and exaggeration from the cops.[/mks_pullquote]

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is set to officially announce his 2016 gubernatorial campaign tomorrow, also says he opposes reforms.

I asked my friend Mark Friese at the Vogel Law Firm about the reforms. Friese is not only an experienced defense attorney but also worked as a cop previously in his career. Given his experience on both sides of the criminal justice system I value his views on these sort of matters.

“The proposal is not a big stretch,” Friese told me. “Currently, the police cannot use a probationer (supervised by DOCR) as a snitch without first obtaining judicial approval. While inconvenient, cops do it all the time. This proposal, too, might be a bit inconvenient, but if the result is that young adults are provided clearer information, and which results in them exercising their right to consult with counsel, I’m all for it.”

Sadek wasn’t on probation, thus his use as an informant didn’t need judicial approval.

I remain on the fence about the proposal. While on one hand I think SEMCA handled Andrew Sadek’s case poorly, using exaggeration and intimidation to pressure him into being an informant, on the other hand criminal informants are an invaluable tool for stopping crime. And Sadek did commit a crime, after all.

Which is why I think Friese’s point about “exercising their right to consult with counsel” is the most important one in this debate.

Andrew Sadek should have asked for an attorney. He should have had competent counsel sitting next to him in that interrogation room. He should have had a legal expert available to dispel some of the bluster and exaggeration from the cops.

Too often law enforcement can make those under arrest and accused of a crime feel as though asking for an attorney is some great inconvenience, or worse a sign of guilt. But here’s a simple truth about the criminal justice system: The cops are not impartial, and when you’re in their crosshairs they’re not your friends, even though they may try to act that way.

Whatever they may tell you, their statements and advice are not necessarily based on  your best interests.

If you find yourself under arrest your mantra in the face of interrogation attempts should be “I want my lawyer.” It’s your constitutional right, after all, and don’t believe for a moment in your own ability to navigate the treacherous waters of the criminal justice system without one.

“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” the proverb says. That’s the truth.

If Andrew Sadek had an attorney representing him in his dealings with SEMCA he might be alive today.