A Kent County judge has dismissed criminal charges against two former corrections officers in a highly-publicized marijuana butter case, saying pre-dawn searches at their homes nearly four years ago were improper.
“Deputies clearly intended to go onto the property without a warrant in the middle of the night, seeking to question defendants about criminal conduct,'' Judge Dennis Leiber wrote in his four-page opinion. “No emergency circumstances existed to justify the search.''
Leiber's ruling, dated Tuesday, Nov. 21, comes five months after the Michigan Supreme Court said the rights of corrections officers Todd VanDoorne and Michael Frederick were violated in March, 2014 visits to their homes during a marijuana investigation.
The two were charged with having marijuana butter, even though the Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team did not have a search warrant.
VanDoorne and Frederick, who worked at the Kent County Jail at the time, said they felt compelled to cooperate and allow the drug team into their homes.
The Michigan Supreme Court said police were trespassing with the early morning visits, which turned into searches. It determined actions by the sheriff's department constituted an illegal search and seizure.
The case came back to Kent County Circuit Court for Leiber to determine whether the searches should stand.
Leiber ordered that the criminal cases be dismissed. “This is a final order that closes the cases and resolves all remaining issues,'' the judge wrote.
Not necessarily, says Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker.
“We are going to appeal,'' Becker said Wednesday. “But we're going to have to work our way back up, first through the Court of Appeals.''
He contends the charges should stand because the corrections officers were read their Miranda rights and signed a consent form. There was nothing improper or illegal about the pre-dawn visits when they played out nearly four years ago, Becker said.
“This is not a marijuana issue; it's a search issue that we're appealing,'' he said. “This goes beyond marijuana and has an impact upon cases that don't involve marijuana. That's the issue.''
Frederick and VanDoorne, both who had medical marijuana cards, were identified as clients of a Belmont couple who provided marijuana butter to corrections officers at the Kent County Jail.
Members of the Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team visited their homes after the Belmont raid, knocked on their doors and asked if they'd consent to a search.
Officers in four unmarked vehicles visited Frederick's home at 4 a.m. March 18, 2014. They asked if they could come inside and talk with Frederick, eventually asking to see his marijuana butter. The marijuana-infused butter was seized.
KANET members then headed to VanDoorne's home and knocked on a side door. VanDoorne, who was asleep during the 5:30 a.m. visit, recognized some of the officers. He showed them his medical marijuana card and consented to a search. KANET members recovered marijuana butter from inside.
They were charged with illegally possessing marijuana butter and lost their jobs. Attorneys for the pair sought to suppress the seized evidence, arguing their consent to the searches was involuntary and the “knock and talk'' approach violated their Fourth Amendment rights protecting them against illegal searches and seizures.