A Missouri appeals court agreed Tuesday that evidence of marijuana possession and production against a former college instructor should be thrown out because of a defective search warrant.
Matthew Rouch, who taught television production and digital technology at Northwest Missouri State University, initially came to authorities’ attention in September 2013 when he traded Facebook posts with a colleague, saying he is always optimistic at the start of the school year.
But, he added later, “by October, I’ll be wanting to get up to the top of the bell tower with a high powered rifle — with a good scope, and probably a gatling gun as well.”
In an interview with university police, Rouch contended the remarks were meant as a humorous response to a colleague. After the interview, however, Rouch told a colleague, “Yesterday they thought it was a gun. Today, I’ve brought a bomb.”
When that got back to police, they arrested Rouch, obtained a warrant to search his home and investigated whether he had made a terroristic threat.
Investigators found no lethal weapons but uncovered a marijuana growing operation, court records alleged.
A Nodaway County judge later threw out the drug evidence, saying the search warrant that police had used was faulty. Judge Roger Prokes ruled that investigators had no probable cause to believe that criminal contraband or evidence would be found in the search.
The appeals court agreed.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, Rouch’s possession of a firearm inside his home simply would not have served as evidence that he intended for either of his comments to be taken seriously rather than in jest,” the three-judge appeals panel wrote.
Rouch’s lawyer, Robert Sundell, said he and his client were very pleased and predicted that prosecutors soon would drop the case.
“They can ask for a rehearing or a transfer to the Supreme Court, but without the evidence it’s hard to see how they go forward,” Sundell said.
Nodaway County prosecuting attorney Robert Rice said he was reviewing the appeals court’s ruling and had made no decisions on how to move forward. But he defended his decisions in the case.
“In the end, I believe that public safety comes first, and I stand by the decision to seek search warrants in this case,” Rice said.