The final chapter in this series I promise.
By Pat Merriman
Dunn Co. State’s Attorney
What is our local law enforcement effort against this poison? I’m going to speak from the heart and, if you’re offended…I apologize up front. This is my 5th, and most likely last, trip to this rodeo which started in 1983 and, it has been a “doozy” as we say down South. I grew up in Independence, Missouri, the hometown of President Harry Truman. It was a safe, quiet mid-sized town. But, by the time I left in 1986, at age 29, it had gone from being a bustling, prosperous place to a drug/crime-riddled DMZ because of the powder cocaine wars. I had already lost one close friend “Jeff” (from a wealthy, highly respected family) to a drug shoot-out in 1980 where, after years of cocaine abuse, he decided to “rip off” his dealer and was shot dead and stuffed in the trunk of his car. Jeff was large, loud, gregarious and a great guy…dead at age 25. I helped identify the body. In a micro-second, I went from being a happy-go-lucky college kid (a man with an opinion) to a drug war veteran (a man with experience) at Jeff’s closed-casket funeral. That’s actually the day I decided to go to law school via the United States Marine Corps.
Chapter 2 was the US Justice Dept. and a Defense Contractor. Testing showed a penchant for intelligence analysis and legal reasoning. Who woulda thought mild autism had any benefits, eh? Long story short, no USMC, instead, training and expertise in narcotics trafficking cases involving: Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Washington, Texas, Jefferson City, St. Joseph, Springfield…the same, sad, disease process. No matter how small, innocent or thriving a community, drugs eventually entered the picture. After cocaine in the 80’s, came crack in 1985, then crank (meth) in the 90’s and, in Missouri, crank was king. And, as each wave of this war unfolded, the violence level, severity of addiction and, ultimately, public threat exploded. Simply put, there was no such thing as a crime that did NOT seem to involve this poison. And, another close friend “Jim” fell victim.
Jim, Jeff, Seth, Steve, Joe and I had been inseparable in High School. But, Jim was that binge drinking, OCD, funny guy. We called him the “Disco Pig” because dancing was huge in the late 70’s and, Jim fancied himself a dancer. He was larger than life and did EVERYTHING that way with the rest of us always making excuses when he passed out drunk, threw up or went on a bender. He was my buddy and I was an enabler but, I didn’t know that then. It was even rumored that he was with Jeff at the shoot-out and had planned it. Regardless, I went on to college and we lost touch and, Jim’s 2 failed marriages and a homicide conviction (he killed a pedestrian while DUI), a felony resisting arrest, and he started using meth and heroin by 1983. I was married by then and actually getting ready to graduate law school. His mom and dad (great people) and my best buddy Seth would call, from time-to-time but, it wasn’t good. Jim was homeless in Vegas, selling his body to support his habit, finally arrested in Arkansas for causing an over-dose death of a girl at a party and back to prison. Three dead people in his wake and, the addiction continued unabated while he wasted his life in/out of prison.
Then, he showed up at my door in Springfield, Missouri when I was the Drug Czar in 1995. And, you other enablers out there, hear this! He talked about how great things were going and how it was going to be different this time. He joked, about how I had “changed” from being so fun-loving to such a hard case who didn’t trust him anymore. A year later, SPD found him with a needle in his arm…dead in his apartment above the Dairy Queen where he worked. I identified the body and, I couldn’t even shed a tear. I was a man with experience now and, I had known how it was going to end. The way it always ends. Jim was using because he was always talking about how good things were going. My friend, Lance McKnelly— the founder of Teen Challenge in Springfield gave me a heads up years ago. You see, Lance was a recovering cocaine addict— clean and sober for over 15 years—”Patrick, when they’re talking about how great things are, they’re getting ready to use. I get up every morning, look at myself in the mirror and acknowledge that I want to use another gram of coke today. THAT’s how I stay sober…I’m scared every day that I’m going to use again.”
The first day I set foot in Dunn County, North Dakota, I went on a “walk about” with a driver who knew the area. As we stopped to gas up at a local establishment, I watched as a truck driver “slung meth” out of his rig in the parking lot. Right there in the open. That was the summer of 2012. Since then, some have complained that I’m calling our hometown a “drug town” or exaggerating the problem. That is just plain silly. Just because drugs have appeared here does not mean the community is “bad” and, don’t kill the messenger who bears the message either. It simply means that some of these carpetbaggers exacerbated a small problem that had always existed into a bigger problem during the oil boom. That’s all…fix the problem, don’t fix the blame, eh?
Thousands of prosecutions and another loved one who fell into meth abuse later, I’ve heard it all too. And, so, as you sit there worried that your loved one that you just “know” is using drugs…don’t be afraid or in denial. This may be NEW to Dunn County but, the worm is beginning to turn as they say and, law enforcement is here to help you. We established a Zero Tolerance policy 2 years ago and, unfortunately, some abusers and their enablers want to call it “harassment”. No…we’re just drawing a line in the sand and saying, “No more.” Get your mind right as my Dad used to say. Law enforcement is not “causing” your loved one to use meth. It’s a bogus argument that, “How are they supposed to get help if you guys won’t leave them alone?” That’s just denial. We don’t persecute…we prosecute. And, your angst comes with the frustration of dealing with the addict not the law. As a football official, I don’t take the barbs to heart anyway. And, believe it or not, we are trying to be fair with these addicts.
During this lull in the oil boom, the objective is simple…make it as hard to use drugs in Dunn County as possible so that when oil picks back up, we’re prepared. And, carping about an increased law enforcement presence, “us versus them”, and “harassment” is looking at the backside of the bull I’m afraid. Again, this is a community problem and, it requires a community solution. If you want help, we’ll do everything we can to get it for you. If you want to live in virtual reality that you can use drugs and get away with it, we can take the other route through the court system. Either way, the problem is addressed instead of ignored. And, addicts, you DO have a drug problem. By definition, you use drugs, you get caught, you go to jail, ergo, you have problem. And face it—you’re just being plain selfish! It’s not just about you but, also, our young kids now and what type of place they are going to live in and inherit.
Your “presumption of innocence” applies to the judge/jury not the police officers and prosecutor once the investigation is closed in our adversarial criminal justice system. If I allowed the case to go forward, I have a good faith basis to believe you’re guilty and, you’re not going to browbeat me with a bunch of rhetoric about professionalism or ethics or bullying. We call it like we see it. And, we can’t do it alone. Folks, rehab, pre-employment screening and random, employer drug testing are the carrot to keep these guys off meth. You simply don’t have a constitutional “right” to use drugs that endanger the rest of us. On the other hand, arrest and prosecution are the stick and, unfortunately, if we can’t agree on using the carrot, the stick is the only other option. I sincerely hope this series of articles has helped and, again, if you or a loved one needs help, call the KPD, DCSO or my office.