Q&A with Dunn County Assistant State’s Attorney Pat Merriman

Question: “Do we really have a serious drug problem up here in Dunn County?” 

Question: “Do we really have a serious drug problem up here in Dunn County?” 
Answer: ASA Pat Merriman worked his first drug case with the US Attorney’s Office in Kansas City, in the federal Western District of Missouri, back in 1984. Selected by the Hon. Robert G. Ulrich, the U.S. Attorney for that district (now a retired Court of Appeals Judge) from hundreds of applicants, Pat was hired (his second year in law school) to be the sole law clerk for that office and, for the first time, was subjected to the, then, new wave of cocaine trafficking in the Midwest. Colombian killings, violence and an exploding drug problem quickly inundated the fledgling DEA and local police departments where Pat grew up. Moving forward, the epidemic took root in Northwest Missouri, spread to Southwest Missouri and Pat, after graduation from law school in 1986, quickly became an expert in narcotics interdiction as the poison grew from marijuana (1970’s) to cocaine (1980’s) to crack cocaine, heroin, and designer drugs (XTC) in the 1990’s, to prescription drugs and methamphetamine in the new millennium. The pathology would start on the East and West Coasts, spread to the South, then the Midwest and then the West. Suffice it to say, Pat has seen this epidemic start, grow and flourish in large cities, towns and rural areas too many times in his 3-decade career.
On his first trip to North Dakota in 2012 to meet his new in-laws, it became readily apparent that heroin and methamphetamine was being possessed and sold covertly in Dunn, McKenzie and Stark Counties. “Slingin’ dope” is a well-known phrase to Pat and, as a former prosecutor in our sister county (McKenzie) too, and a frequent shopper in Stark County, he has seen all the old, familiar graffiti and gang/drug-related nonsense that was common in the Midwest in decades past too. According to the ND Attorney General, Drug arrests climbed by nearly 20% percent in North Dakota last year.  AG Wayne Stenehjem warned lawmakers that the state has “a completely different situation than we had with the drug cases even 10 years ago.” The problem is particularly desperate in the “Oil Patch” with Mexican drug cartels muling drugs directly into North Dakota, “They’re coming in in enormous quantities, and they are coming in with people who bring them right in from the cartels, and increasingly they are armed and exceedingly dangerous individuals,” according to AG Stenehjem. Stenehjem revealed the following sober statistics:
ND recorded 3,431 drug arrests last year.
A 19.5% increase over 2012’s total of 2,872 drug arrests.
The 2012 total marked a 39% increase over 2009.
And, a 286% increase since 1990.
In 2013, 53% of BCI’s cases were drug-related.
38% of those cases involved methamphetamine.
Stenehjem believes that pounds of methamphetamine are being trafficked through the Bakken oilfield on a weekly basis, intelligence information confirmed by ASA Merriman. Trafficking and abuse of prescription drugs, cocaine, heroin and high-potency marijuana (including pot grown legally in Colorado and Washington) is also on the rise with the ill-fated legalization nonsense, and the Obama Administration’s lax policy on these “non-violent offenders” has created a perfect storm for law enforcement in Dunn County and her sisters here in the oil patch. AG Stenehjem has requested 3 additional BCI agents and $16.6 million in oil impact grants for local law enforcement agencies which the State Legislature approved last year. The Attorney General would like those grants extended past the 2015 legislative session and beyond.
Both the mainstream media and the Obama administration have recently reported on this maelstrom of crime and drug influence in the Bakken. As reported by Amy Dalrymple in her story ND Officials Say Drugs ‘Burgeoning Threat’ in Bakken.
This influx of highly paid oilfield workers into an area with limited opportunities for spending their income has created a market for drugs and contributed to an overall increase in crime…” U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said a mention of a North Dakota-specific crime issue in such a plan is unusual, and he’s not sure it has ever happened before. “This underscores the urgency of the need for additional law enforcement resources to respond to the growing organized crime problem we are facing in the Bakken,” Purdon said. The document cites statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report that shows that crimes in the Williston Basin increased 32 percent from 2005 through 2011, and violent crimes including murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape and robbery increased 121 percent. “These dramatic increases have overwhelmed state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies working with limited resources,” the report says…
The report also mentions that the Bakken has experienced a large influx of outlaw motorcycle gangs attempting to establish “ownership” of the territory, facilitating the illegal drug trade and prostitution…“The fact is our home towns in the Bakken are developing big city crime problems and we need more resources from every level of government-federal, state, tribal and local-to continue this fight,” Purdon said… Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski said the Drug Enforcement Agency is “invisible” in western North Dakota… For the full report go to www.whitehouse.gov/ ondcp/drugpolicyreform.
But, local law enforcement in Dunn County is aware of the growing problem and is addressing it in a pro-active manner. The oil patch of North Dakota is simply experiencing the same growing pains that the rest of the United States suffered- through in decades past and, yes, unfortunately illegal narcotics are part of that equation. However, with the adoption of the Zero-Tolerance Drug policy instigated by Pat and the heads of local law enforcement this past Fall, to quote a past President, “All we have to fear is fear itself”. Your current, local law enforcement officials are aware of the problem and, are dedicated to eradicating this sickness and protecting you from it. In the future, Pat hopes to have a “tips” phone number for embattled citizens who are living at/near this activity. Another benefit of the allocation of law enforcement personnel to the local hot spots is also yielding felony drug cases. Who would’ve thought–people who drive drunk and engage in reckless driving use drugs too? Go figure!
(Editor’s Note: ASA Pat Merriman will be contributing stories and information to the Dunn County Herald each week. If you would like to read the full newsletter he distributes each week by email contact him at dunncountynewsletter@gmail.com.)

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