North Dakota troopers caught a California couple with 67 pounds of drugs. A judge dismissed the case
FARGO — A federal judge has dismissed a drug case against two Californians who were arrested in March after North Dakota troopers said they found 32 pounds of meth and 35 pounds of marijuana in a car traveling on Interstate 94 near Fargo.
On Jan. 9, U.S. District Judge Peter Welte signed the order to dismiss charges against Cheng Kong Yang, 31, and Vikkie See Vue Lor, 39, both of Sacramento. The married couple were federally indicted June 21, 2018.
The dismissal came two days after Welte signed an order to suppress evidence obtained during a March 4, 2018, traffic stop that yielded 30 bundles of meth and 54 bundles of marijuana. In a recommendation report adopted by Welte, Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal agreed with the defense that a trooper “unlawfully prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion of other crimes.”
“The order suppressing all evidence seized as a result of the search of defendants’ vehicle has essentially left the United States without evidence upon which it can reasonably prove to a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendants have committed the charged offenses,” North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley wrote Jan. 9 in a motion to dismiss the case.
An incident report details how Trooper Gabriel Irvis was on patrol in Cass County when he stopped a rental vehicle shortly after 11 a.m. March 4, 2018. He wrote that Lor was driving the vehicle too closely behind another vehicle, had slowed drastically after presumably noticing the patrol vehicle and would not look at the trooper, Irvis’ incident report said.
Irvis told Lor he was going to issue a warning for following too close and asked her to sit in his patrol vehicle. Less than a minute after making the stop, Irvis messaged Trooper Kristjan Helgoe to bring a police dog to search the rental vehicle, court documents said.
The trooper interviewed Lor for about 8½ minutes. Lor said she and Yang, her husband and passenger, were headed from Sacramento to Minneapolis to visit a friend, according to Irvis’ report.
Yang said they were going to his uncle’s funeral, the report said, contradicting Lor’s story.
“I Googled a route between the two cities and the most direct route of travel means the couple should never have driven through North Dakota,” Irvis wrote, noting he could see Lor’s pulse through her shirt at one point beating rapidly.
Irvis suspected Lor was nervous, the report said. Lor denied having drugs in the vehicle, and she consented to a search, the report said.
Officers found drugs in the glove compartment before the two were arrested. More drugs were found in door cavities, the rear bumper and other parts of the vehicle after it was impounded, court documents stated.
The couple did not challenge whether there was enough reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop, but argued their consent to the search resulted from the “illegally prolonged traffic stop,” court documents stated.
Senechal wrote that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proof to show troopers had enough evidence to request assistance from a police dog.
“The 'pre-stop indicators' (Irvis) described — slowing down when observing a patrol vehicle, driving in a ‘rigid’ manner, and not looking at him when he paralleled the vehicle — singly or in combination are not indicative of criminal activity,” she wrote. “Rather, they are innocuous behaviors.”
In recent years, judges and prosecutors in North Dakota have dismissed a number of drug cases after finding law enforcement did not have enough evidence or reasonable suspicion to search vehicles.
Last year, a Cass County prosecutor dismissed such a case out of West Fargo, where police said they uncovered the largest drug bust in the city's history. Officers found 125 pounds of marijuana in a vehicle, but prosecutors said officers made "a bad stop" because there was not enough proof the driver broke any traffic laws.