Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Sunday, July 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 87° Clear
News >  Crime/Public Safety

Michael ‘Topher’ Clark, ex-pot smuggler who inspired movie ‘Kid Cannabis,’ killed in Hayden shooting

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 25, 2019, 10:43 p.m.

Michael “Topher” Clark – who gained notoriety in the early 2000s for his role in a Canadian marijuana smuggling ring that inspired the film “Kid Cannabis” – has been identified as the victim of Sunday’s fatal shooting in Hayden.

Clark, 45, was shot multiple times after getting into a fight with another man at The Tipsy Pine, a bar at 8166 N. Government Way where he was a regular, according to court records.

Scott M. White, 33, of Coeur d’Alene, was arrested in connection with the shooting. He remained in the Kootenai County Jail on a murder charge Monday with bond set at $1 million.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to the bar at about 1:40 a.m. Sunday and found Clark and other patrons in the parking lot, according to court records. White was being held at gunpoint by one of Clark’s friends.

Clark was unresponsive, and deputies attempted CPR before he was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital. After he was pronounced dead, a detective noted gunshot wounds on his chest, stomach, back and bicep.

Witnesses – including White’s girlfriend and the bartender, who knew Clark – told deputies that Clark had confronted White for behaving loudly while playing songs on the jukebox, according to court records.

“White addressed Clark by name,” the records state. “Clark stated he did not know him and seemed alarmed by White knowing his name.”

After the two got into an argument, witnesses said, White threw the first punch, hitting Clark in the side of the head and breaking skin, and Clark responded by slapping White in the face. The bartender helped break the two men apart, handed a bill to White and his girlfriend and asked the couple to leave the bar.

White and his girlfriend exited through the back door, but she briefly went back inside to retrieve his jacket, according to court records. Clark also went outside and punched White, and the two men started fighting in the parking lot as she returned outside, she told deputies.

White’s girlfriend said the two men ended up on the ground, and then White stood up, pulled a pistol from a holster in his waistband and shot downward at Clark, according to court records.

Clark’s friends thought he had gone to the restroom and didn’t realize he had been shot in the parking lot until someone looked out a window, according to court records.

One of Clark’s friends ran outside, grabbed a gun from his truck, called 911 and kept his weapon trained on White until deputies arrived.

The brawl left White with a chipped front tooth as well as “multiple injuries and abrasions on both of his elbows, his face, the top of his head, and on his hands,” according to court records.

Deputies reported that White appeared “extremely intoxicated” and was slurring his speech. In an interview at the sheriff’s office, he told detectives he’d had four beers at home before going to the bar, where he continued drinking. He said his girlfriend had driven them to the bar because his vehicle was outfitted with a “blow and go” device from a prior DUI conviction.

“Scott White said the last thing he remembered was ordering a White Russian and then being in the parking lot and pulling his gun on some guy on the ground,” court records state. “Scott White said he did not recall being in a confrontation inside the bar, but admitted that sounded like something he would do.”

White told detectives he had a concealed-carry permit and had taken a class on handgun safety. He said it was “normal for him to carry one of two handguns everywhere he goes, including to bars,” according to court records.

“Scott indicated he has had problems with alcohol from an early age and that sometimes when he is at the bar he will place his handgun in his girlfriend’s purse,” the records state.

Detectives quoted White as saying, “The only way I would draw this pistol is if I was being pursued,” and, “There’s a reason I drew and shot, but right now I don’t remember.”

Clark made a living building hot rods and street bikes after getting out of federal prison in 2006. He had served 30 months for his role in smuggling millions of dollars’ worth of “B.C. bud” from Canada into Idaho in the early 2000s.

Clark and a friend, a 19-year-old pizza delivery driver named Nathaniel “Nate” Norman, reportedly came up with the idea to run pot over the border after reading an article in High Times magazine about British Columbia’s loosely enforced cannabis market. Almost by accident, they created a lucrative drug empire and raked in enough cash to purchase lakefront homes and luxury cars.

The operation also resulted in a gang-like rivalry with another group of pot smugglers led by Brendan Butler, a 20-year-old Gonzaga Prep graduate who was murdered by an associate in 2002.

Clark and Norman were indicted on federal drug charges in 2003, along with 22 others, and went to trial the following year. The story, first reported by The Spokesman-Review, and later by the Inlander and Rolling Stone magazine, became the basis for the 2014 movie “Kid Cannabis.”

Since getting out of prison, Clark had changed his ways and tried to put his mistakes behind him, said Anton Hale, a friend.

“For as long as I’ve known him, he’s been a very happy, positive, joyful person,” Hale said.

An employee at The Tipsy Pine said Monday that the bar’s owner had instructed employees not to publicly discuss the shooting.

In a phone call Monday, Norman, who owns a heating, ventilation and air conditioning business, said he had not spoken with Clark in 17 years and believed that Clark had made “bad life choices.” Norman, who is now 37, said he knew nothing about Sunday’s shooting beyond some early news reports.

“I can tell you what I was doing that night,” he said. “I was home watching the new ‘Harry Potter’ with my family.”

Spokesman-Review reporter Jonathan Glover contributed to this story.

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com