DULUTH — A judge has denied former "Miracle on Ice" hockey star Mark Pavelich’s bid to dismiss firearm charges and suppress evidence from his ongoing criminal case stemming from the alleged assault of his neighbor in August 2019.
Pavelich, 62, is charged with striking James T. Miller with a metal pole after they returned from a fishing trip together. He has been undergoing mental health treatment since his arrest.
According to a criminal complaint, Pavelich had accused the 63-year-old victim of "spiking his beer." Miller suffered two cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fractured vertebra in the attack.
Pavelich was subsequently arrested at his Lutsen, Minn., home, where authorities seized several weapons, including an illegally modified shotgun and two guns with filed-off serial numbers.
He is charged in State District Court with second- and third-degree assault and two counts of possession of a firearm with a missing or altered serial number.
Defense attorney Chris Stocke argued that the firearm charges should be tossed, along with other evidence seized from the search of his client's home, claiming that it stemmed from an illegal sweep conducted by police in the immediate aftermath of the reported assault.
Two Cook County Sheriff's Office deputies, Michael Running and Jesse Johnson, and U.S. Forest Service officer Edward Belmore testified at an October hearing that they went to Pavelich's home after Miller reported the attack. They said they found a rope that appeared to be set up as a "booby trap" outside and saw Pavelich moving among rooms upstairs.
The defendant eventually came downstairs and was arrested without incident. The officers testified that they then conducted a "protective sweep search" of the house — a limited search to ensure the safety of the area.
In the search, which spanned approximately five minutes, Belmore found the modified shotgun under a bed, ammunition on a dresser and a rifle in the bathroom, according to court documents. They were unable to locate the metal pipe in the initial sweep.
As Pavelich was taken to the Cook County Law Enforcement Center, officers obtained a warrant from Judge Michelle Anderson, who authorized a nighttime search for the metal pipe and any illegal guns in Pavelich's house and outbuildings. Law enforcement then found the pipe outside on the lawn, along with the two guns missing their serial numbers.
Stocke contended that officers were not justified in conducting the initial sweep and that the resulting seizure of the firearms would not have occurred without the illegal search. He also claimed that the warrant was overly broad and an overnight search was not proper.
Judge Michael Cuzzo disagreed in a six-page order issued Monday, Dec. 14. He said the officers "credibly testified" about prior interactions with Pavelich, including knowledge of his mental health issues and possession of multiple firearms.
The judge said the officers were "genuinely and reasonably concerned for their safety," especially after seeing the alleged booby trap and observing Pavelich moving around the house.
"The officers credibly testified that they did not know if the house had other occupants," Cuzzo wrote. "That uncertainty, combined with all the other circumstances creating the officers' concerns for their safety, justified a short inspection of the upstairs area for dangerous individuals."
Cuzzo described the defense's objections to the search warrant as "unpersuasive," noting the officers had reason to believe there was an assault weapon on the premises.
Deputies said they needed to conduct the search outside standard hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. because the locks on the door were not working and the sheriff's office did not have sufficient personnel to secure the property.
The judge said he wasn't convinced the nighttime search was necessary, but described the violation as "merely technical" and not requiring the suppression of evidence.
Pavelich was civilly committed to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter last December after Cuzzo ruled that he was "mentally ill and dangerous." Documents state that he was diagnosed with a "neurocognitive disorder that affects his ability to reason and recognize reality," with at least one psychologist opining that the condition may be related to a series of head injuries sustained during his long playing career.
A forward on the U.S. Olympic hockey team that famously defeated the Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal in 1980, Pavelich grew up as a prep star at Eveleth High School and became an All-American at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He went on to spent several years in the National Hockey League, mostly with the New York Rangers.
In retirement, he became a land developer on the North Shore and avoided most public attention, famously selling his gold medal and taking 35 years to return to the site of the famous victory in Lake Placid, New York.
After his arrest, it was reported that Pavelich had been acting increasingly erratic in recent years, experiencing delusions that people were attempting to poison him and damaging property belonging to friends and family.
With attorneys indicating he was making significant progress in treatment at St. Peter, Cuzzo ruled in May that Pavelich was competent to stand trial on the criminal charges. The judge in September loosened his conditions of release, allowing Pavelich to move to a less-restrictive treatment facility.