By The Maryville Daily Forum

A Facebook joke has resulted in felony drug charges against a Northwest Missouri State University instructor after law officers searching Matthew Rouch's Maryville home for weapons discovered an apparent marijuana operation.

Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice filed charges accusing Rouch of producing and possessing a controlled substance – felonies that could land the veteran mass media teacher in jail for more than 20 years. Officers found what they allege was a marijuana growing operation complete with grow lights, pot-filled baggies and smoking paraphernalia.

Rouch, 57, was arrested around 1 p.m. Thursday by university police who had obtained a search warrant in order to gain access to a Facebook post. That post was brought to light by student journalist Trey Williams of the Northwest Missourian, the university's campus newspaper. The warrant was necessary, Rice said, because Williams, claiming journalistic privilege, would not divulge the location of the comment or the name of its author.

Rice said Williams had been working on a story about the consequences of careless behavior on social media sites, and notified authorities that a Northwest faculty member had posted a message that could be perceived as a threat. The post has since been removed, but read: “But yes, that's the beginning of the semester. I'm always optimistic. 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."

Rice said it was clear in context the message was intended jokingly and did not, therefore, constitute and criminal act. However, Northwest officials were not amused. A terse letter issued late Thursday to students, faculty and staff by Northwest Provost Doug Dunham said that Rouch, who was not identified by name, had been removed from campus and placed in custody on an "investigative hold."

"The university has strict policies against, and will not tolerate, threats or incidents of violence," Dunham wrote. "Northwest will take all appropriate actions that are commensurate with the evidence."

In a signed statement submitted to law enforcement officers, Rouch said his Facebook quip was in response to an earlier post by a colleague, Assistant Professor Jody Straugh, who had made a casual comment about the start of a new semester. After reading Rouch's post mentioning a rifle and Northwest's Memorial Bell Tower, Rouch stated that Straugh responded, "Attention NSA (National Security Agency), I do not know this man."

Rouch then claimed to have posted a couple of follow-up remarks: "Uh, I hope everyone knows I was just kidding," and "Uh, I guess not."

Facebook aside, Rice said Rouch wasn't arrested until after an incident on Thursday when he reportedly told a group of colleagues that he had a bomb in his briefcase. Rice said someone relayed the remark to university police who confronted Rouch and removed him from the campus. When Rouch told officers he had no weapons in his Second Street home other than a "pellet gun," Rice sought a second search warrant "because we wanted to make sure that was true."

Rouch joined the Northwest faculty in 1992 and taught classes in television production and digital technology.