North Dakota Deputy Flubs Another Big Drug Bust, but Cops Considering Keeping Seized Property Anyway

Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser John M. Steiner / The Sun

Last month I wrote about a drug case out of Stutsman County where a massive amount of seized drugs were suppressed as evidence because the traffic stop made by Deputy Matt Thom was unconstitutional.

The smack down delivered to the deputy by Judge Jay Schmitz in his order suppressing the evidence was, in a word, epic.

Today news from the Jamestown Sun is that county prosecutors have dismissed charges in another drug case involving Deputy Thom. The dismissal comes ahead of a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence – 198 lbs of marijuana, specifically – in that case as well.

Perhaps local officials didn’t want another warts-and-all accounting of what Deputy Thom did wrong:

The Stutsman County state’s attorney’s office moved to dismiss drug charges against two people Friday at the request of the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office, according to court documents.

“After reviewing the case and going over it with the state’s attorney we found some issues with the case,” said Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff. “We felt it was best to dismiss the case.”

Kaiser said his department is going to get some more training into how to handle these situations and, boy, do I hope that happens.

But what’s troubling about this news, beyond the fact that a law enforcement officer again violated the constitutional rights of two people so severely that the criminal charges against them had to be dismissed, is that despite said dismissal the cops are still thinking about taking their vehicle and property anyway:

Kaiser said the drugs seized in the cases will be destroyed. Law enforcement officials are exploring seizing the vehicles used in both cases and cash seized during the arrest of Mae Thao and Xang Thao under North Dakota’s civil asset forfeiture law.

In other words, the State of North Dakota lacks the evidence to convict these people, but they’re going to take their money and vehicles anyway.

What a time to be alive.

The issue of civil asset forfeiture has been a hot-button political topic both here in North Dakota and nationally. Recently an activist who participated in the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline made headlines with his fight to get his truck back. Law enforcement officials have kept it despite the charges against the protester being dismissed.

There was an attempt to fix this problem during the 2017 legislative session. Rep. Rick Becker, a Republican from Bismarck, introduced HB1170 which would have prohibited the forfeiture of property in the absence of a guilty verdict for the property’s owner. It would also have required any revenues from forfeited property go into the state’s general fund instead of to law enforcement.

It passed the state House, but failed to get a single vote in the state Senate (video of the floor debate on the issue at the link).

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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