(maryvilledailyforum.com) -A former Northwest Missouri State University professor arrested nearly a year ago on charges of cultivating marijuana in his home recently won a significant victory in 4th District Circuit court.
Judge Roger Prokes ruled invalid a search warrant authorities used to gain entrance into Matthew S. Rouchâ€™s Maryville residence.
According to court documents date-stamped July 8 and provided to the Daily Forum on Wednesday, Prokesâ€™ ordered the warrant quashed and ruled all evidence collected during the search inadmissible in court.
In the conclusion to his order, Prokes wrote:
â€śThe search warrant issued September 6, 2013, should be quashed and all evidence discovered from that search should be suppressed because there was no probable cause to believe that criminal contraband or evidence of a criminal offense would be discovered.â€ť
Prokes also found that while â€ślaw enforcementâ€™s concern in this case is understandable, the court finds no statutory or case law precedent that authorizes issuance of a search warrant based upon anything less than probable cause that contraband or evidence of a crime would be found.â€ť
The search of Rouchâ€™s home occurred following a Facebook post on Aug. 28 in which Rouch exchanged what was apparently meant to be banter with a colleague about the start of a new school year.
â€śBut yes, that's the beginning of the semester. I'm always optimistic,â€ť Rouch wrote. â€śBy October, I'll be wanting to get up to the top of the bell tower with a high powered rifle â€” with a good scope, and probably a Gatling gun as well."
Initially Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice declined to press charges, saying it was clear in context that the message was intended jokingly and did not, therefore, constitute and criminal act. However, Northwest officials were not amused.
"The university has strict policies against, and will not tolerate, threats or incidents of violence," then-Provost Dunham wrote in a terse message to students, faculty and staff in which Rouch was not mentioned by name. "Northwest will take all appropriate actions that are commensurate with the evidence."
Facebook aside, Rouch wasn't charged until an incident on Sept. 5 when he reportedly told a colleague that he had a bomb in his briefcase. Rice said after Rouch was taken into custody after someone relayed the remark to university police who confronted Rouch and removed him from the campus.
When Rouch told officers he had no weapons in his Second Street home other than a "pellet gun," Rice sought a search warrant "because we wanted to make sure that was true."
On Sept. 6, according to court documents, Northwest Police Chief Clarence Green swore out an affidavit in support of the warrant seeking â€śa rifle with a scope, a Gatling gun, or other firearms capable of lethal use.â€ť
But at the time the warrant was sought, Prokes found, officers â€śknew defendantâ€™s comment was most likely hyperbole.â€ť
Prokes also stated that the application made no reference to the context in which the defendantâ€™s statements were made, and â€śfailed to inform the issuing court of the fact that they knew the comments were most likely made in jest.â€ť
When Green and Nodaway County sheriff's deputies entered the house they discovered what they alleged to be a large amount of live marijuana plants and other contraband.
Green, in a probable cause statement filed with the court, described what he called a "marijuana grow" in "plain sight" on the second floor of Rouch's residence.
The "grow," Green wrote, consisted of heat lamps, plant food, approximately ten live marijuana plants, bags of dried pot, and "multiple" bongs and pipes. Bags of marijuana were allegedly found in other parts of the house as well.
Rice said at a press conference that the total amount of marijuana seized easily exceeded the 35-gram threshold that divides misdemeanor and felony possession.
Rouch was released from jail on $25,000 bond and later resigned his position on the universityâ€™s communications faculty.
But all of that may now be moot, since Prokesâ€™ ruling apparently disallows all evidence seized in the search.
â€śThe court certainly does not condone the defendantâ€™s politically incorrect statements,â€ť Prokes wrote in his ruling. â€śOfficials had every right to be concerned and further investigate the defendant. Nonetheless the defendantâ€™s comment was not criminal and was obviously an ill attempt at humor. It is apparent that law enforcement sought and obtained a search warrant as part of their threat assessment protocol and to relieve any lingering concerns about the defendant and his state of mind. However, this rationale for a search warrant is not supported by either state or federal law â€¦â€ť
Rouch joined the Northwest faculty in 1992 and taught classes in television production and digital technology. He is being represented in court by Maryville attorney Robert Sundell.