Robbinsdale police officer testifies why he stopped Myon Burrell, searched vehicle

Myon Burrell, the Minneapolis man whose life sentence for murder was commuted in 2020, argued in court this week for the dismissal of drug and gun charges filed against him last year, saying there was no probable cause to pull him over before his car was searched leading to the discovery of the contraband.

A Robbinsdale police officer testified in Hennepin County District Court in the ongoing criminal case against Burrell, 37, charged in September with fifth-degree drug possession and illegal weapon possession following the traffic stop by officer Andrew Nordby. At the time, Nordby said Burrell was driving erratically on N. 42nd Avenue and a billow of marijuana smoke emitted from his SUV.

Nordby took the witness stand for two hours Wednesday as parties argued over the legal basis of the traffic stop and search. Dash and body-worn camera videos played in court show the officer follow Burrell's SUV for several blocks as it touched the dotted line two or three times. The video doesn't show a billow of smoke coming from Burrell's car after Burrell rolled down the window upon the stop, as referenced in criminal criminal charges.

Defense attorneys Paul Applebaum and Nico Ratkowski are challenging the stop and the alleged basis for asking Burrell out of his SUV. They argue that evidence seized in the traffic stop that led to the felony charges should be suppressed because Nordby lacked probable cause.

Burrell's life sentence was commuted by the Minnesota Board of Pardons after he served 18 years in prison. The felony murder conviction remains on his record so he's prohibited from possessing firearms. As a teen, Burrell was charged and convicted of the 2002 killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was struck by a stray bullet in Minneapolis. Burrell, now 37, always maintained his innocence.

Applebaum asked Nordby several times if he knew who Burrell was when he pulled him over at N. Indiana Avenue and Lake Drive on Aug. 29 around 11 a.m. Nordby said he didn't know who Burrell was. In fact, videos show Nordby asking Burrell how to pronounce his last name.

Nordby said there was no discussion prior to the stop about Burrell in the Robbinsdale Police Department, which Nordby joined in 2020 as his first law enforcement officer job.

Nordby said the "moving violations" of the SUV touching the dotted line and going 7 mph over the posted speed limit of 30 mph concerned him, and he suspected the driver was under the influence.

Applebaum asked Nordby if he agrees that drivers who are not impaired also touch dotted lines and speed.

"I agree with that," Nordby said.

Prosecutors from Dakota County examined Nordby on the witness stand as well. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office recused itself from the case since Burrell was a paid staffer on Mary Moriarty's campaign team when she successfully ran in 2022 to be Hennepin County Attorney.

Dakota County Chief Deputy Attorney Cheri Townsend clarified with Nordby that he didn't see Burrell actively smoking, but the officer did see remnants of marijuana on the console. The officer agreed.

He also acknowledged that adult use of recreational cannabis was legalized earlier that month, but it's still against the law to smoke it in a motor vehicle.

Nordby conducted field sobriety tests with Burrell on the sidewalk and then asked to search the SUV. Burrell did not give him permission. The body camera video shows that Burrell asked to call his lawyer and Nordby said yes. Burrell stepped to the side with his phone in hand when officers grabbed him and a struggle ensued. Burrell was placed under arrest after Nordby said he thought Burrell was attempting to flee.

Ratkowski said in a statement that Nordby's testimony and video evidence "clearly demonstrate that the officer's claimed reasons for searching Mr. Burrell's vehicle were fabricated. Mr. Burrell's constitutional rights were repeatedly infringed during the stop, and we are hopeful the Court will acknowledge as much."

Both parties will submit final written arguments in the next few months before District Judge Peter Cahill takes the case under advisement. Burrell, who remains out on $100,000 bail, returns to court in May when a decision on the stop will be issued.