Prosecutor: Somerset drug bust suspect was 'setting up for a fight'

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A St. Croix County prosecutor said a suspected drug dealer was armed and "setting up for a fight" with police before being arrested last week at a rural Somerset home.

Authorities said suspected drugs, guns and a large amount of cash were discovered Wednesday, Aug. 16, after authorities from multiple agencies raided a home where 33-year-old Andover, Minn., resident James Lee Johnson was arrested.

Johnson, who authorities said has a history of felony convictions, was later charged with one count of methamphetamine possession with intent to deliver, seven counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and one count of maintaining a drug trafficking place. He's also charged with misdemeanor resisting an officer.

St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Ed Minser called Johnson "a significant player" in the Twin Cities meth scene.

The search warrant, served at 2246 71st St. in the town of Somerset, involved the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office emergency response unit, members of the Drug Enforcement Agency and drug task forces from St. Croix Valley and Washington County after receiving information that the suspect had numerous guns in the house.

"He was setting up for a fight," Minser said at Johnson's initial appearance Friday, later adding that "there is reason to believe" Johnson lived at the house.

St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Michael Waterman set cash bond at $245,000, which Minser said represents the maximum amount of fines Johnson could face if convicted on all counts.

In making his bail argument, Minser said Johnson has active drug cases in Minnesota, including one involving about 30 pounds of meth. Minser also said in court that he received information that Johnson had paid "for hits on people."

Johnson's attorney, Andrea Nemmers, told Waterman that Minser's information "is not accurate."

When officers made entry to the home, authorities said they discovered suspected methamphetamine inside, which prompted a second search warrant. St. Croix County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Cathy Borgschatz said the search turned up about $76,000 in cash along with the drugs and numerous guns.

"He was trafficking a large amount of meth," she said, adding that the cash on hand was a sign the suspect was about to reload his supply.

Johnson was "not cooperative" during the arrest, Borgschatz said. She said he tried choking a police dog during the apprehension, which led to him getting bitten twice. Johnson was hospitalized for the bites, she said.

Nemmers said Johnson, who appeared in court wearing a bandage on his hand, needed surgery to stop the bleeding after the bite severed an artery.

Two others were also arrested and later charged in connection with the incident — River Falls resident Jamie M. Schmidt, 39, and Bayport, Minn., resident Nicholas A. Gallichant, 38. They were both charged with meth possession.

Prosecutors allege they were in a vehicle seen leaving the house that was later pulled over by sheriff's deputies.

A K-9 search of the vehicle allegedly turned up small amounts of meth and pot, along with drug paraphernalia. Schmidt later produced a bag containing a "large amount of crystal like substance" from her pants, according to a criminal complaint. Six cellphones, a digital scale and checkbooks were among items seized in the stop.

According to the complaint against Johnson:

The search warrant was served at 3:12 p.m., where the front door was breached by an armored police tank.

Two females left the house after commands were given by officers. Asked by an officer who was inside, one said "James."

At about that time, a St. Croix County K-9 deputy heard what he believed to be an assault rifle being loaded

Officers used a public-address system to announce their presence and warn that a K-9 unit would be deployed.

Johnson came out of the house after about 10 minutes. He was on his cellphone at the time and police were concerned what he had in his front pocket. More K-9 warnings were given, which Johnson appeared to disregard.

A St. Croix County sheriff's deputy deployed the dog to apprehend Johnson, who then grabbed the dog by the collar. The dog bit Johnson and he pulled it off his hand.

Officers then moved in to apprehend Johnson. He struggled with officers before being taken into custody.

When deputies went back toward the house, an officer noticed the phone Johnson had was recording or streaming. Officers weren't able to turn off the recording function, which was protected by a code or fingerprint.

Minser said at the hearing that Johnson had been communicating with his lawyer over the phone.

The house was found to contain a loaded AR-15 rifle with a sight and a magnifier leaning against a bedroom wall near a window looking out on the area where the armored vehicle was parked. Multiple loaded handguns were found nearby on the floor. Another loaded AR-15 was found in that bedroom's closet.

After suspected meth was spotted inside the house, the second warrant was requested and granted.

A search of the house turned up items including an American tactical M1911 rifle with two loaded magazines, one of which was inserted into the gun, as well as hundreds of ammunition rounds for various guns.

About 115 grams of suspected meth were found in assorted places in the house, Minser later said in court. An inventory list included in the complaint also notes 204 grams of an "unknown crystal substance."

Multiple cellphones, a pistol bag containing rubber gloves, holsters, a digital scale, a notebook ledger, drug paraphernalia, a laptop, a money counter, brass knuckles, suspected drug notes and stretch wrap were also among items inventoried in the complaint.

The complaint also notes Johnson was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2013 in Anoka County. He was also convicted in 2009 of felony drug possession in Ramsey County.

A preliminary hearing in the case was set for Tuesday, Aug. 22.