KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Prosecutors won't be able to present evidence of a pot-growing operation seized from the home of a former Missouri professor whose attempt at humor on Facebook led authorities to investigate him as a potential terrorist.
A three-member Missouri Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling that a search warrant executed on the Maryville home of Matthew Rouch, 58, in September 2013 was improperly obtained from a judge who had been misled by Northwest Missouri State University's campus security chief.
Rouch came to the attention of university police after a reporter for the school newspaper asked Chief Clarence Green about a post made by a professor on the popular social networking site.
Rouch, a professor in the school's communications department at the time, responded to a colleague's Aug. 28, 2013, Facebook post with a quip that he's always optimistic at the beginning of a semester. However, he wrote, "By October, I'll be wanting to get up to the top of the bell tower with a high powered rifle with a good scope, and probably a gatling gun as well."
On Sept. 4, 2013, Green confronted Rouch about the posting. The professor admitted writing it, but said it was a sarcastic comment meant as a humorous response to statements made by a colleague. Rouch told Green the only weapon he owned was a pellet gun.
The next day, a professor told campus police he had overheard a conversation in which Rouch told a colleague he had a bomb. Green had Rouch taken into custody and put on a 24-hour investigative hold for making terroristic threats.
Again, Rouch said the comment was in jest and taken out of context. But on Sept. 6, 2013, university police executed a search warrant on Rouch's home seeking "a rifle with a scope, a gatling gun, or other firearms capable of lethal use." Instead, they found only his pellet gun and what they described as a significant marijuana-growing operation.
Rouch was charged with possessing and producing marijuana, both felonies.
A Nodaway County court in July quashed the evidence seized from Rouch's home, saying police had no grounds to obtain the search warrant. In its ruling Tuesday, the Missouri Court of Appeals agreed.
Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice said he would review the ruling over the weekend and decide whether to pursue the case further.
"Our obligation is to put the public's safety first," Rice told The Associated Press. "I stand by my decision to get the search warrant and will continue investigating threatening comments made in public forums."
Rouch's attorney, Robert Sundell, said he wasn't surprised by the appellate ruling and added that it will be difficult to prosecute the drug case with all the evidence suppressed.
"We argued all along that just because something's inappropriate or politically incorrect it doesn't mean there's a probability that a crime has been committed," he said.
Rouch resigned from his job at the university and is currently doing consulting work in Maryville, Sundell said.