by Matt Clarke
The parents of a North Dakota State College of Science student have filed a lawsuit against a deputy sheriff and the county he works for, alleging he used two arrests--for sales of marijuana totaling 3.3 grams – to bully their son into becoming a confidential informant, with fatal consequences.
Andrew Sadek, 20, was discovered with a fatal gunshot wound to the head on June 27, 2014. Lying at the bottom of the Red River near the campus where he was enrolled, his body had been weighed down with a backpack full of rocks. Police told his parents, John and Tammy Sadek, that their son committed suicide. The medical examiner’s report said the gunshot killed him but could not conclusively rule the death a suicide. A toxicology drug screen was negative and no firearm was found.
In the years since Andrew’s death, his parents have come to believe that he was murdered because he was a police informant. And they blame Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Weber.
It was in April 2013 that Andrew twice sold small amounts of marijuana to a friend who was acting as a confidential informant (C.I.). The first buy was for $20 and the second for $60. The total weight of marijuana was under an eighth of an ounce. In April 2014, police searched Andrews’ dorm room and found a grinder with marijuana residue in it.
During questioning, he admitted to selling the pot and owning the grinder. Deputy Weber used that confession to play hardball, telling Andrew he faced up to 40 years in prison and a $40,000 fine for the two felonies associated with the sales and a misdemeanor for possessing paraphernalia. But he also offered an alternative – become a C.I.
Weber told Andrew that if he would wear a wire and conduct two “controlled buys” for each felony charge, they would be reduced or dropped. Andrew told him that he only knew of two other people who sold marijuana. But Weber was undaunted, telling him he would have to complete two controlled drug purchases from at least three or four people.
During this discussion, no attorney was present. Once he agreed to work for Weber and the Southeast Multi-County Agency drug task force that Weber was assigned to, Andrew was given a recording device – but no training – and sent to make his controlled purchases. He was not to tell anyone, even his parents, about what he was doing. He performed three controlled buys before he disappeared; he was last seen alive leaving his dorm room at 2:00 a.m. on May 1, 2014. His body was discovered in the Red River in late June.
“It took almost two months for [police] to find Andrew,” said Tammy Sadek. “We were told as soon as the river stopped flooding, they would search for him every day. It had stopped well over a month. It happened to be a fluke” that he was discovered by officers conducting a diving training exercise.
“I think [Andrew] was trying to get his [controlled buy] quota, and he went to the wrong person,” his mother added. “I firmly believe he didn’t do this to himself. There was no depression. No note. I’ve gone through everything.”
With the assistance of Fargo attorney Tim O’Keeffe, the Sadeks filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Deputy Weber and Richland County in June 2016. They claim Weber coerced Andrew using fraud and deceit, by telling him he would serve prison time if he did not become an informant. In fact, another student at the same school was busted for selling small amounts of pot but refused to become a snitch. He received probation and the case was later removed from his criminal record. The suit also accuses Weber of failing to determine whether Andrew was qualified to serve as a C.I., and failing to train and supervise him.
In their lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in April 2018, the Sadeks have asked for unspecified monetary damages sufficient to construct a memorial to their son and compensate them for their “mental anguish, emotional distress, grief and loss of companionship.”
A January 2015 report by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation found no “concerns” with Weber’s informant work, nor with his recorded interview with Andrew.
The attorney for Deputy Weber and the county filed a motion in January 2017 to prevent the Sadeks from making any public statements about the case, arguing that they might disclose information about the C.I. program received during discovery in the wrongful death suit. O’Keeffe countered that a blanket “gag order” was overly broad and unnecessary.
The use of untrained and unsupervised young people as C.I.s is not unique to North Dakota – nor are its fatal consequences. Florida State University graduate Rachel Hoffman, 23, busted for possession of five ounces of marijuana and a few ecstasy and valium pills in 2008, agreed to become a C.I. to receive leniency. With $13,000 in her purse, she set off to purchase 1,500 ecstasy pills, crack cocaine and a gun from two dealers.
Her supervisor lost contact with her after the dealers made a last-minute change to the transaction location, from a public place to a private one. The next day, Hoffman’s body was discovered lying in a ditch; she had been shot multiple times. Her last words recorded by the wire were, “I have no idea where I am.” [See: PLN, June 2010, p.1].
In 2010, Deneilo Bradshaw and Andrea Green were convicted of Hoffman’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. It turned out that they never intended to sell her anything, but instead planned to rob her. Green reportedly discovered the wire in Hoffman’s purse and shot her.
“Rachel’s case underscores the danger of serving as a C.I.,” said attorney Lance Block, who represented the Hoffman family in a lawsuit that resulted in a $2.6 million settlement in January 2012. “They had 20 police officers and a DEA plane out there monitoring and running that undercover operation and yet they still couldn’t protect her,”
Florida later passed “Rachel’s Law,” which mandates protection for police informants. It also requires law enforcement officers to tell them they can’t promise dropped or reduced charges and allows potential informants to talk with an attorney before deciding whether to become a C.I.
The Sadeks are working with Fargo attorney Tatum Lindbo to get similar legislation in place to protect C.I.s in North Dakota.
In 2016, Buzzfeed exposed a C.I. program at the University of Mississippi which one prosecutor called “a mill that functions exclusively through the recruitment of college students to serve as C.I.s to rat out other students.”
The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force has targeted undergraduates at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, focusing on low-level marijuana offenses.
Critics say this is the lesson to be learned from the Sadek and Hoffman stories – police exaggerate the seriousness of relatively minor drug offenses to bully students into serving as de facto undercover agents. They then come into contact with very dangerous people they may well not have otherwise encountered, sometimes resulting in their deaths.
“They’re bullying these kids into thinking it’s so bad and it’s not,” said Tammy Sadek. “The police just need to do their own job, They don’t need our children to do their job.”
How did Deputy Weber feel about that? He said the charges were serious.
“You know, a drug dealer is a drug dealer whether you sell a big amount or a small amount, whether you do it once or 100 times,” he stated.
In April 2017, the North Dakota legislature opened debate on “Andrew’s Law,” named after Sadek. It would require police to enter a written agreement with anyone serving as a C.I., who would also have to be advised of the right to consult an attorney first. The agreement must spell out the scope of the potential C.I.’s work and the “inherent risk” it involves. No one under age 15 may serve as a C.I. under the proposed law. Lindbo, the attorney working for the Sadek family, said they want to prevent a recurrence of what happened to Andrew.
Interviewed on 60 Minutes, Tammy Sadek said of her son’s work as a C.I., “We’d have gotten him a lawyer and told him ‘no.’”
“We’ve never heard of such a thing,” John Sadek added. “Using college students for snitches or whatever you want to call them.”
Sources: www.wahpetondailynews.com, www.nydailynews.com, www.grandforksherald.com, www.westfargopioneer.com, www.cbsnews.com
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