Death of Andrew Sadek
Sadek in 2014
November 22, 1993|
Valley City, North Dakota
May 1, 2014 (aged 20)|
Wahpeton, North Dakota, US
|Died||Unknown; believed to have been shortly after disappearance|
|Cause of death||Gunshot wound|
June 27, 2014|
Breckenridge, Minnesota, US
|Residence||Wahpeton, North Dakota|
|Known for||Unsolved death while working as a confidential informant in drug investigations|
|Parent(s)||John and Tammy Sadek|
Andrew Sadek (born November 22, 1993; believed to have died shortly after disappearing May 1, 2014), was a 20-year-old student at the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) in Wahpeton, North Dakota, United States. Following an arrest in 2013 for felony charges of selling marijuana that could have led to a long prison sentence, he agreed to work as a confidential informant (CI) for a local multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force in exchange for having the charges dropped. Under police supervision, he bought more marijuana from other dealers around the NDSCS campus.
He was last seen leaving his dorm early on the morning of May 1, 2014. Almost two months later, his body was found in the Red River north of Breckenridge, Minnesota, adjacent to Wahpeton, with a gunshot wound to the head.
While his family believes that he was murdered, the police labeled the case as a suicide in belief that he had killed himself to escape his role as a CI. However, the backpack that was attached to his body was filled with rocks and the weapon that was used for his death was never found, nor was there a suicide note. The case is one of several where young people working as CIs have died. At his mother's behest, the state investigated the police handling of his case but found no serious concerns, although the task force did make minor changes in its procedures afterwards. His parents have filed a lawsuit over the case, and backed changes to state law that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession on campus and protect CIs, much like a similar statute in Florida passed after the 2008 murder of Rachel Hoffman. In 2017 those changes were made.
Sadek was born in Valley City, North Dakota, in 1993, and raised on his family's cattle farm outside nearby Rogers. In 2005, his older brother and only sibling Nicholas was killed in a grade crossing accident. His family and his teachers described him as being quiet and shy. After graduating from Valley City High School, he began attending North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton in 2012. He was studying to become an electrical technician at the two-year college.
In April 2013, Sadek apparently began selling marijuana, meeting customers in the school's parking lots. On two occasions, the buyer was another student working as a confidential informant (CI) for the Southeast Multi-County Agency (SEMCA), a task force of police officers from various local law enforcement agencies in the three counties of southeastern North Dakota (Ransom, Richland and Sargent), plus Wilkin County in neighboring Minnesota, working on drug enforcement. Sadek's first sale to the CI was 1⁄8 of an ounce (3.5 g) for $60; the second was one gram for $20.
In November, based on those buys, SEMCA performed a consent search on Sadek's dorm room. They found an orange plastic grinder with marijuana residue. Sadek admitted it was his. He was not arrested or charged.
The following day Sadek met with Richland County deputy sheriff Jason Weber, an SEMCA officer. Because he had sold marijuana on a college campus, Weber told him that under North Dakota law he could be charged with a Class A felony, the most severe, and sentenced to over 40 years in prison if convicted and sentenced consecutively. He agreed to work as a CI as well to avoid that fate.
Shortly afterwards he made his first controlled buys as a CI. Twice before the month ended he bought another 1⁄8 ounce from another dealer on campus, in the same parking lot, for $60 each. In January 2014 he bought a similar amount from a different dealer, one identified by the SEMCA officers.
After that he stopped keeping up contact with SEMCA. According to the officers he needed to make one more buy from the same dealer he had bought from in January, plus one more from a third dealer, to fulfill his obligations to them. He never made those buys. Sadek's family says he was preparing for life after school. He had gone as far as Bismarck and Grand Forks interviewing for work as an electrician, and begun dating a new girlfriend.
Disappearance and death
Sadek returned to Rogers on the weekend of April 25–26, 2014, to visit his parents and tend to his cattle herd. His mother called him late on the latter night after he returned to campus. They discussed their shared phone data plan, which was nearing its monthly limit. It was his last contact with his family.
On the night of April 30, 2014, Sadek went out with his roommate, Drew Kugel, and some friends. The group returned to Nordgaard Hall, Sadek's dorm, where they watched a movie before going to bed. When Kugel awoke the next morning, Sadek was gone. Kugel thought that Sadek might have gone to see his girlfriend. But he did not attend any classes that day, and when he had not returned by the next afternoon, Kugel and Sadek's friends reported him missing to NDSCS campus police.
A review of security cameras at Nordgaard captured an image of him leaving the building after 2 am on May 1, wearing jeans and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers hooded sweatshirt, and carrying a black backpack. He was carrying his cell phone but it was not turned on.
SEMCA assumed he had fled to avoid further CI work, and had him formally charged with the two felonies in an attempt to motivate him to return. Arrest warrants were issued. His parents pleaded publicly for him to come home and help with the spring calving on the farm.
The search ended almost two months later, on June 27, 2014. A police dive team doing a training exercise found Sadek's body in the Red River near Breckenridge, Minnesota, just across from Wahpeton. It was identified through dental records.
Two months later, investigators from both states released the autopsy report. The cause of Sadek's death was a small-caliber gunshot wound to the head. Whether the wound was self-inflicted or not could not be determined; the weapon has not been found.
A backpack he was wearing had been filled with rocks. The Buccaneers sweatshirt was missing, but his body was wearing a jacket that he did not appear to be carrying or wearing on the security camera footage, and which his family did not recognize as one belonging to him. His wallet was also missing.
Police dated Sadek's death to within two days of his disappearance. The gunshot wound was determined to have caused his death; however it could not be determined whether it was self-inflicted or not. The weapon used has not been found, although police diving teams searched the river several times.
In 2016, Tammy Sadek complained to The Daily Beast that following the discovery of Andrew's car, police had promised to search the river as soon as it went down from its springtime flood stage, which should have been about a month afterwards. Yet they never did, she claimed, until the dive team happened to be doing its training exercise a month after the waters had receded. "It just happened to be a fluke that they did find him", she said.
The day the autopsy report was released, Sadek's mother Tammy gave a radio interview to Fargo station KFGO-FM. She claimed that the NDSCS campus police, who were in charge of investigating the circumstances of her son's disappearance and death, were treating it as a suicide and not seriously exploring angles that suggested homicide instead. She scoffed at that theory:
There was no suicidal tendencies. There was no note. There was no depression. And his grades were excellent ... Who shoots themselves in the head and fills their backpack with rocks, ties it to themselves and ends up in the river? It’s just too much.
She conceded that a .22-caliber pistol was missing from the family home, but doubted her son would have chosen to kill himself with graduation only two weeks away. As proof of her allegations that evidence existed pointing to murder, she shared a detail the police had withheld from the public up till then: the backpack on her son's body had been filled with rocks, suggesting an intent to weight the body down and keep it submerged. Further, she said, he was not wearing the Buccaneers sweatshirt he had on when last seen alive on the security camera video, contrary to initial police claims that he was wearing the same clothing he had on at that time. Instead, he was wearing a jacket the family did not recognize as belonging to him. His wallet was also missing, suggesting another effort to hide his identity.
In December, Tammy Sadek revealed that when the family brought his car home from NDSCS after his initial disappearance, they found the carpeting was completely wet. Underneath it, in the trunk, there were several inches of water in the spare tire well. Tammy Sadek told KFGO that this suggests to the family that someone may have killed her son, put his body in the trunk and driven it to the river, then returned to campus. A security camera monitoring the parking lot was not functioning that night. Someone who had talked to her reported seeing three people cleaning a car similar to her son's the night he went missing.
Tammy Sadek questioned whether the NDSCS campus police were capable of handling the investigation by themselves. She asked why the case had not been referred to the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation, its Minnesota counterpart, or the FBI. She started a Facebook page about the case, in which she promised to reveal, every few months, further information pointing towards a murder as a way to prod authorities to investigate the case seriously.
State review of SEMCA
In her August radio interview, Tammy Sadek had called on North Dakota's Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to investigate SEMCA's handling of her son's work as a CI. He put together a panel of three veteran law enforcement officers, two from elsewhere in North Dakota and one from neighboring South Dakota. Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson, one of the 11 law enforcement officers on SEMCA's board, defended the use of CIs. "These types of investigations are conducted the same way pretty much everywhere where people breathe in and out," he said. "They never did anything wrong that needed to be changed".
She has asked that police state officially whether they are investigating her son's death as a suicide or a murder, and called on the NDSCS police to request the help of higher-level state and federal law enforcement agencies that might have the expertise and resources to solve the case. "The FBI has to be asked to come in and so does BCI," Tammy Sadek said, referring to the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation. "And nobody is asking them".
The report, published in early 2015, found few problems with SEMCA. Most of its handling of Andrew had followed established law and procedure. However, it did suggest placing the task force under the authority of a BCI agent, as SEMCA was one of only two such multi-jurisdictional task forces in the state that was not. By the end of the year, it was.
In one of Tammy Sadek's interviews with KFGO, she said "[Andrew] was murdered…and this [report] actually reinforces that in our minds. We know that, and we know they're not even looking at anything ... Did somebody he was trying to get for them do it? Or somebody he already got?" Sadek warned the community that others are still at risk. "SEMCA is alive and well on campus," she warned. "They're still using kids ... They're not protecting these kids".
She was unpersuaded that the reviewers were truly independent. All involved were in law enforcement, and "they have each other's back," she said. John Burton, a California lawyer and vice president of the National Police Accountability Project, told the Associated Press that supposedly independent reviews of law enforcement malfeasance by other people in that field are "just a charade."
In December 2015 the CBS News program 60 Minutes devoted a segment to the case. Correspondent Lesley Stahl compared Andrew's case to that of another NDSCS student who had also been arrested by SEMCA for selling marijuana at the school. Unlike Andrew, he declined to become a CI after being told a lawyer could not help him when he asked for one. After leaving that interview, he told his mother, retained a lawyer and received a sentence of two years' probation and an $800 fine, considerably less than the 30 years he was threatened with.
The segment used Andrew's case as a departure point for the general lack of safeguards when police use young people as CIs. An undercover narcotics officer told Stahl that legally he is not required to inform arrestees of their Sixth Amendment rights until after they have been charged and are about to be asked questions which might elicit self-incriminating answers. Few jurisdictions had, at the time, any consistent policies regarding the handling of youthful CIs.
Shortly afterwards, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Becker, a member of the state House, announced he was drafting legislation in response to Andrew's case, in cooperation with the Sadeks, in response to the broadcast. It would lower the penalties for possessing marijuana on campus by making the offenses less severe, ending mandatory sentencing and increasing the amount of the drug offenders must have to be charged with dealing. The bill also includes provisions to protect CIs modeled on Rachel's Law, a similar statute passed in Florida following the 2008 murder of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old killed by dealers in a botched drug sting while she was a CI.
Becker said he planned to introduce it in the legislative session beginning in 2017. Stenehjem, who also sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2016, was unconvinced that the law was needed. "I think we do have protocols in effect, and if we need to make any adjustments to those ... we can do that without legislation," he told the Bismarck Tribune. Nor did he believe it wise to reduce marijuana penalties given what he believed was the severity of the state's drug problem. As the 2017 session prepared to convene, Becker indicated he would introduce the bill, under the name "Andrew's Law", and sought cosponsors.
Despite Stenehjem's opposition, the bill passed the state House unanimously in late February. It required that a written agreement explicitly protecting the right to counsel be executed between police and any CI, that police officers undergo training before dealing with CIs and the state write rules governing the process. Police would be prohibited from running informants younger than 15 and would only be able to work with 16-year-olds under more restrictive rules. In the event of a CI's death, the state attorney general would have to authorize an independent investigation.
In late April it passed the State Senate with only one vote in opposition. There had been some compromises made when law enforcement expressed concern, and the Sadeks had initially been opposed to that version, but the final version was acceptable to them. A week afterward Governor Doug Burgum signed the bill into law.
On the second anniversary of the discovery of Andrew's body, his parents had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Richland County and Weber. They alleged that the county failed to properly train and oversee their son for what they were asking him to do, and fraudulently deceived him by overrepresenting the likely severity of the punishment he would receive from a court if he did not cooperate. "A lawsuit is not the North Dakota way", Tammy said. "But this is our last grasp at hoping to get some answers".
At the beginning of 2017 Weber's attorney Corey Quinton asked the court for a gag order preventing the Sadeks or their attorney from publicizing any information obtained by them during discovery, on the grounds that disclosure might hinder the ongoing investigation into Andrew's death, and/or taint the potential jury pool. Quinton pointed to what he said were extremely prejudicial remarks the couple had already made. Their attorney, Timothy O'Keeffe, responded that those statements had been made as part of general warnings to other parents about the perils of letting their children serve as CIs, and that it was not the Sadeks' intent to affect the case. He did, however, acknowledge that there might be evidence that the court could require be kept confidential. Two days later the judge declined the motion, saying he did not believe he had the authority.
After a new trial date was set for April 2018, it was again delayed when Tatum O'Brien, another of the family's attorneys, asked that it be postponed since the college and several law enforcement agencies had not provided documents they had requested. Without that evidence and time to review it, O'Brien argued, they could not properly present their case. "We're asking for things that we haven't seen. So we don't really have any idea as to what we're going to get. If we're going to get thousands of pieces of paper or hours of recordings, we don't know exactly the volume." The court ruled in the Sadeks' favor and postponed the trial again.
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