BISMARCK — The North Dakota Supreme Court will decide whether a lawsuit surrounding the death of Andrew Sadek, a college student turned police informant, should go to trial.
Attorneys for Sadek’s family presented their case to the justices Thursday, Dec. 19, accusing Richland County and Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Weber of negligence, fraud and deceit. The lawsuit claims Sadek, a 20-year-old North Dakota State College of Science student whose body was found in late June 2014 north of Breckenridge, Minn., in the Red River, was misled when recruited to become an informant for drug investigators.
Tatum O’Brien, a Fargo attorney who represents the Sadek family, argued the college student’s death was connected to his work as an informant. He received limited training, was not aware of undercover work hazards, was pressured to conduct more serious drug sales than he initially thought and was not properly supervised, she said.
“Weber had no clue who Andrew was talking” to, she said, claiming the officer did not investigate the people Sadek was dealing with. “He didn’t care. He just wanted him to make a certain number of buys. He didn’t care if it was a violent gang or if it was some kid at college who smoked a little bit of pot.”
“He just kicked Andrew out the door and said go get some deals done.”
But the defense’s attorney, Corey Quinton, argued no one knows why Sadek left his NDSCS dorm, where he intended to go or how he died. A jury can’t possibly determine what law enforcement and other experts have been unable to, he said.
“The undisputed facts of this case are that we will never likely know what, when, where, how or why" Sadek died, he said, adding that no circumstantial evidence links Sadek's death to his work as an informant.
Sadek was recruited as an informant after he sold 3.3 grams of marijuana to two confidential informants in April 2013, according to court documents. Weber told Sadek he faced a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and that working as an informant could help reduce charges to misdemeanors, according to a video of a meeting between the two.
Sadek walked away on May 1, 2014, from his dorm at NDSCS. His body was found two months later in the Red River with rocks in his backpack and a gunshot wound to his head.
Coroners did not determine when Sadek died or the manner of death, but O’Brien noted that homicide and suicide were possibilities. O’Brien claimed Sadek likely was murdered and that the actions of Weber and Richland County led to his death.
The Sadek family appealed Southeast District Judge Jay Schmitz's decision in May to dismiss the case.
“We submitted a 112-page expert report, which said these are all of the reasons why all of this behavior by Weber was inappropriate,” O’Brien said. “It was not within the national standards. ... They put him in danger.”
Quinton said an expert who testifies that a drug investigator violated standards is not evidence of negligence. In talking with those who bought drugs from Sadek or sold drugs to him, no information came to light that people knew he was an informant, nor were further facts revealed to show how he died, Quinton said.
A gun missing from the Sadek’s family matches the caliber of the bullet that killed the college student. Crews searched the river for the gun but never found it.
“That does not mean ... it is not there,” Quinton said in responding to inferences that a gun would be found near Sadek if he killed himself. “It just means they did not find it.”
Sadek was required to alert Weber about any drug buy, something he didn’t do if a buy was set up around the time of his death, Quinton said.
The student's last known drug deal was months before he went missing, and his last contact with Weber was two weeks before he walked away from campus. He went missing the day of Weber’s May 1, 2014, deadline to buy drugs.
Weber threatened to issue arrest warrants for Sadek if he didn’t get the deals done by the deadline, O’Brien said.