Judge: Behavior by North Dakota deputy negates huge pot bust

Updated: 5:30 p.m. | Posted: 2:45 p.m.

A North Dakota judge on Friday refused to consider as evidence nearly 500 pounds of marijuana seized during a vehicle stop because he said a county deputy did not have a good reason to be suspicious.

Bee Thor of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Nhia Lee of St. Paul, Minnesota, were both charged with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia after the Jan. 21 bust on Interstate 94 near Jamestown. Authorities seized 476 pounds of pot as well as other items.

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The state argued that Stutsman County Deputy Matt Thom suspected the defendants of transporting illegal drugs because the vehicle was going 2 mph under the speed limit, the suspects were from St. Paul, the driver, Lee, was sitting too rigidly and did not look at the deputy when he drove alongside the vehicle, and no luggage was visible.

Southeast District Judge Jay Schmitz said in his order that Thom's explanation for the stop "was too inconsistent and contrived to be credible" and it violated the defendants' Fourth Amendment rights regarding unreasonable searches and seizures. All evidence obtained after the stop is inadmissible, Schmitz wrote.

"This is not a close case — quite the opposite — and my legal conclusions are evident from my factual findings," the judge wrote.

Fargo attorney Jesse Lange, who represents Lee, said his client was stopped for "driving 73 mph on cruise control and following the rules of the road."

"This opinion really highlights the fact we only hear about the most flagrant of these constitutional violations," Lange said. "And if it doesn't lead to an arrest, the courts don't get involved."

Stutsman County State's Attorney Fritz Fremgen said he is considering whether to appeal the judge's order.