Thursday, May 26, 2022

Man who allegedly threatened to kill dispensary employee pleads not guilty

Daily Inter Lake | May 13, 2022 12:00 AM

The man accused of threatening to kill a cannabis dispensary employee unless she gave him marijuana last month entered a not guilty plea in Flathead County District Court on Thursday.

Joel William Vessie, 28, faces a single felony count of robbery following the April 17 holdup. Flathead County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Vessie not long after meeting with the distraught victim, court documents said.

The incident was captured by the Evergreen-based dispensary’s surveillance cameras. Deputies found Vessie, who matched the appearance of the man in the video, near Montana 35 later that same day, court documents said.

Authorities accuse Vessie of walking into the store and asking for one or two buds of marijuana. When the dispensary employee refused him, he allegedly threatened her.

“I have people that can mess you up if you don’t help me out right now,” he allegedly said.

She, in turn, handed over a single joint. Authorities reported recovering an empty marijuana tube on Vessie as they arrested him.

DURING HIS appearance before Judge Heidi Ulbricht this week, Vessie told the court he struggled with substance abuse. Along with the not guilty plea, Vessie unsuccessfully sought to secure his release on his own recognize, though Ulbricht did lower bail from $75,000 to $30,000.

Vessie’s attorney, Alisha Rapkoch, acknowledged the seriousness of the alleged threat, but argued that his release would allow him to undergo treatment for substance abuse. Vessie qualifies for inpatient care, she said, but a bed could only be secured after his release was ironed out.

“That would be my first step if I were released, checking in as soon as I can,” he said.

Rapkoch also walked Vessie through his finances. He said he had no savings and no assets. Prior to his arrest, he was living in a travel van owned by his father. Vessie said he struggled with employment the past several years, but had offers of work lined up upon his release.

They preemptively agreed to his wearing of a drug patch and undergoing GPS monitoring if allowed to leave the county jail.

Deputy County Attorney Andrew Clegg, though, grilled Vessie on his lengthy history with the court system. Although he had just one prior felony conviction on a drug charge, Vessie had faced a string of misdemeanor charges over the years, including several assaults, Clegg said.

“I had good times and I had tough times,” Vessie said. “I struggle with addiction.”

Given the seriousness of the charge, Clegg agreed with a reduction, but said some amount was necessary.

“This is a threatening charge,” Clegg said. “He made threats to kill the employee of a dispensary.”

Ulbricht said she opted to set bail at $30,000 because of the “violent nature of the offense” and Vessie’s criminal history.

An omnibus hearing in the case is set for May 18. Vessie is due back in court for a pretrial conference on July 13.

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or