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Republican governor candidate Becker wants change to drug informant laws

BISMARCK - A state lawmaker and Republican candidate for governor said Wednesday he's drafting legislation to provide more protection for confidential informants, inspired by last year's death of North Dakota college student Andrew Sadek that was...

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Andrew Sadek was reported missing from the North Dakota State College of Science campus in Wahpeton.

BISMARCK – A state lawmaker and Republican candidate for governor said Wednesday he’s drafting legislation to provide more protection for confidential informants, inspired by last year’s death of North Dakota college student Andrew Sadek that was featured in a “60 Minutes” segment on Sunday.

Bismarck Rep. Rick Becker said he’s been “quite shocked” by the Sadek case. He plans to introduce reforms in 2017 modeled after Rachel’s Law in Florida and a failed attempt this year to strengthen it.

The law was passed in 2009 after 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman was shot and killed while acting as a police informant the previous year in Tallahassee, Fla.

It requires police to tell potential informants that they can’t promise them immunity or reduced charges or sentences for participating.

Authorities also must give them the opportunity to talk to an attorney before they agree to participate and establish policies and procedures for assessing suitability based on several factors, including age and maturity.

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Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings, said she’s also crafting legislation that she believes should at least require an attorney to be present when police ask a young adult to be a confidential informant.

Mooney said she isn’t set on an age range but thinks it should apply to 18- to 21-year-olds who may not have the life experiences or expertise necessary to make such a decision.

“We would hope that our young people in our university systems are not collateral damage in a war against drugs,” she said.

Becker, who has three children in college and another of college age, said the protections he favors – including requiring police to disclose the potential dangers of being an informant – would make an age component unnecessary.

Both are working with Tammy Sadek of Rogers, whose 20-year-old son Andrew was a student at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton when he went missing in May 2014. His body was found in the Red River near Wahpeton with a gunshot to his head.

His parents have said they believe their son was murdered, possibly because he was an informant. Autopsy results were inconclusive as to whether it was a homicide or suicide.

Tammy Sadek has accused the Southeast Multi-County Agency Narcotics Task Force of bullying her son into being an informant because he was scared of a 40-year prison sentence that police said he faced after being caught selling small amounts of marijuana twice on campus for a total of $80.

The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation – overseen by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who also is seeking the GOP nomination for governor – and its South Dakota counterpart reviewed the task force’s handling of the case and found no wrongdoing.

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But it did recommend that a BCI agent oversee the task force – one of two in the state that had no BCI supervision at the time – and that agent is now in place, Stenehjem said.

Tammy Sadek wants police to stop using college students facing low-level drug charges as informants. She said the law should require that an attorney be present and that the parents or guardian be notified when police are recruiting a college student.

“We can’t bring Andrew back, but if we can save some other kids and families from going through this, it’s some gratification,” she said.

Stenehjem has said he would oppose a law banning police from using students as confidential informants. He said Wednesday that adults who agree to be informants must do so “knowledgeably, voluntarily and intelligently, knowing what the risk and the benefit is.”

While he hasn’t seen any proposed legislation, Stenehjem said, “I would support requiring people be aware … that they have a right to go see a lawyer.”

Becker said he’s also drafting reforms that would lower the offense levels for some marijuana crimes, get rid of mandatory sentencing and increase the threshold for marijuana dealing charges.

“My thought is we really don’t need to be filling our prisons up with people that do a little bit of weed,” he said.

Stenehjem said, “I don’t think we can forget we have a problem with drugs in North Dakota, and we cannot lose focus on that.”

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Becker said he can’t help that some people might construe his legislation as a political move.

“It certainly has political ramifications, but the need for this bill is certainly outside the whole political maneuvering world. I’m doing it because it needs to be done,” he said.

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Andrew Sadek was reported missing from the North Dakota State College of Science campus in Wahpeton.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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