The encroachment of the coronavirus on North Dakota has staff and administrators at the Burleigh Morton Detention Center and other law enforcement agencies taking steps to allow business to be conducted while still keeping inmates, themselves and the public safe.
Most of that business is done, so to speak, through the front door by attorneys and the visiting public. If such a change were warranted, that door could be locked and not used for a time.
That’s not an option for the back door, where law officers bring anyone they’ve arrested.
“We can’t just shut down for two weeks and say, 'come back,'” Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben said.
That rings true for any law enforcement and emergency personnel who are taking precautions to protect themselves but also making an effort to help stop the spread of the disease.
Leben said he and his staff have been meeting for some time about precautions to keep themselves and inmates safe. When a case was confirmed in North Dakota on March 11, “it became more real to us,” he said.
The sheriff’s department updated plans formed in 2009 to battle the H1N1 virus. Programs and in-person visitation have been cut back, and the usual face-to-face attorney visits are now conducted through glass. Staff members are asked to report to administration for screening if they have traveled to an area where the virus is active or if they might have come in direct contact with someone who is infected. Visitors are screened if they appear sick and must wear a mask if their visit requires face-to-face contact.
But deputies in the field are responding to calls as usual, Leben said.
“We have to provide public safety despite the risk,” he said.
Patrol, detention and courthouse staff can access kits, which Leben said are staged throughout the agency. The kits include a protective suit, boots, tape, hood, respirator, goggles and gloves.
"It eliminates any sort of exposure to any part of the body," Chief Deputy Gary Schaffer said.
None of the deputies has yet used one. But law officers in the area are taking other precautions.
For example, officers like Mandan's Dylan McAlexander routinely spray down their squad cars with disinfectant.
"I do what I can," McAlexander said. "I don't want to be the cause" of further spreading the virus.
The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has suspended all contact visitation at its facilities, including the North Dakota State Penitentiary and Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck, and the Dakota Women's Correctional and Rehabilitation Center in New England. The department does not have a confirmed case in a staff member or inmate, and no one is being monitored. Email, phone and video visitation with inmates is still available.
The Bismarck Police Department has suspended department tours, citizen ride-alongs and presentations to large groups. If possible, residents are asked to make online reports at http://bit.ly/bpdreporting.
Mandan police officers are being told to keep their distance from anyone with flulike symptoms and to wear protective gear -- gloves, masks, eye protection -- if contact can’t be avoided, Deputy Chief Lori Flaten said. The department is pushing officers and staff to wipe down squad cars and work areas, limit the number of people that respond to a call, and try to handle minor calls over the phone.
“We can’t stop operations,” Flaten said. “Let’s just make sure we’re aware of what’s out there.”
The advice to watch for symptoms is echoed by Renae Moch, director of Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health, who has outlined precautions with area civic leaders and law enforcement and said she’s “met with them to make sure they have what they need.” Emergency dispatchers are asking callers to look for possible signs and symptoms of the disease.
“If the risk is there, it’s communicated,” Moch said. Responders then have the opportunity to don personal protective equipment before making contact.
A possible side-effect -- anxiety -- could affect anyone, Moch said, because the virus and the disease caused by it are drawing considerable attention and the amount of information can be overwhelming.
“This is all new to people,” Moch said. “Even for kids, it’s unprecedented that schools are closed. They’re out of their normal routine.”
Some simple steps -- deep breaths and mindfulness -- can have a calming effect.
“Control what you can control,” she said.
Some gun owners are trying to take a little more control, as well, not out of fear but because they don't like to run out of ammo.
A few more guns and more ammo than usual -- especially the more popular recreational and practice rounds -- have left the shelves as the pandemic spreads. Double H Guns owner Darryl Howard likens it to similar unusual situations in 1992 -- when a ban was placed on high-capacity magazines -- and 2013 -- when a push was made for tougher gun control laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.
The run is less obvious in North Dakota than elsewhere because the state’s population is heavy on shooters and they generally stay stocked, Howard said.
He added that previous sales spikes and shortages came about because “gun guys were their own worst enemy."
“This time the whole damn world is on tilt,” he said.
The popular 5.56 mm and .22 rimfire rounds are selling quickly, as is 9 mm handgun ammo. Howard finds himself in a situation in which he has to hang on to some of that ammo.
“I need ammo to sell guns,” he said.
The increase in gun sales also is spurred by the time of year, Howard said. Some people were planning to buy a gun, were waiting for warmer weather, have received their income tax refund or simply “got the itch,” he said.
“This just prodded them,” he said.
Howard as coach of the Century High School trapshooting team has taken precautions at the range to protect his team. Shooters no longer gather in the clubhouse, instead going from the parking lot to the firing line in squads of five to shoot their league scores. From there they go back to the parking lot.
The shady side
The fear and upheaval that accompany any such crisis also present an opportunity for a criminal element to prey. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is warning that scammers are using the pandemic as a way to obtain personal information or sell bogus products.
be on the lookout for phony emails that appear to come from government entities, especially if they encourage a click on a link for more information
ignore any offers of a miracle cure or protection against coronavirus
be cautious of calls or texts claiming a payment is needed for testing, or stating personal information must be submitted as part of a government response to the virus
beware of fraudulent charities seeking donations. A charitable organization’s registration can be confirmed on the North Dakota secretary of state’s website, at http://sos.nd.gov/, or by contacting the state’s Consumer Protection Division by phone at 1-800-472-2600 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“A healthy dose of skepticism will stop the scam artists in their tracks,” Stenehjem said.
Drew Wrigley, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said suspected fraud schemes related to the coronavirus can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline -- 1-866-720-5721 -- or to the center's e-mail address, email@example.com.
Courts slowed, still function
Scammers or anyone else caught breaking the law shouldn't expect that the judicial system will look the other way, even though some precautions are in place at the state's courthouses.
Federal courthouses in Bismarck and North Dakota's other large cities are remaining open, with most business continuing as usual. However, people who are considered at high risk for having COVID-19 will be denied entry to U.S. District Court.
This includes people who have recently traveled to, or had contact with someone who traveled to, global hot spots China, South Korea, Italy or Iran; people who have been asked by a medical professional to self-quarantine; people who have been diagnosed with the disease or had contact with someone who has been diagnosed; and people showing symptoms.
State courts have suspended jury trials not already in progress until April 24. Bench trials and hearings will go on at the discretion of judges. Guardianship reviews are suspended until June 1. Mandatory hearings -- those required in certain juvenile, family and mental health matters, protection orders, and initial appearances when a person is detained, for example -- will go on.
Potential tweaks are in the works for a proposed North Dakota court rule to gather race data on criminal defendants.
Fargo-based East Central District Judge Steven McCullough, who chairs a subcommittee on the rule, said the group reviewed public comments Monday via teleconference and found a few areas to likely address.
The Data Collection Subcommittee of the North Dakota Supreme Court's Minority Justice Implementation Committee might modify the rule's "classifications or criterion" to include the ethnicities of Hispanic and non-Hispanic, he said.
The rule's race categories are white, black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and multiracial.
Those categories are based on what North Dakota's court case management system allows, which McCullough says is limited but might be able to be adjusted.
"Basically our goal is we want to capture as much data as we can that our system allows us to capture," he said.
Another concern from the public comments is who would report a defendant's race. McCullough said the subcommittee can see the arguments for defendants' self-identification as well as identification from the ones perceiving an individual's race, chiefly police and prosecutors.
The subcommittee likely will stick to the latter and provide its rationale to the Supreme Court, he said.
"Our position is just that if what we’re trying to do is try and get some idea of if there is any disparity based on racial perception that it’s probably better to get information into the system based on the perceivers of that racial identity," he said.
Court and corrections officials say race data would drive statistical analysis for potential policy solutions to any real or perceived biases in North Dakota's criminal justice system.
Race data is collected in other arenas, including juvenile cases, which are confidential, and also in traffic tickets, jury management and North Dakota's corrections system, such as parole and probation outcomes.
The subcommittee's staff attorney, Sara Behrens, will draft amendments to the proposed rule to share with the group's members.
The subcommittee also is waiting on information from Minnesota to see how that state's race data collection is handled, to she said.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's unclear when the proposal will be sent to the Supreme Court, McCullough said. Justices eventually will make a final determination on the proposed rule.
A Bismarck man will spend five years in prison on drug charges after pleading guilty to nine felony counts on Monday.
Carson Messmer, 32, was charged earlier in February in connection with investigations in December and January. Police say they found half an ounce of methamphetamine and $38,000 in cash at Messmer’s residence during a probation search on Dec. 30, according to an affidavit. He was on probation from a 2019 drug charge, court documents show.
During a Jan. 8 stop by a patrol officer, Messmer allegedly had 2 pounds of pot, $12,000 in cash, and an ounce of THC concentrate. A Jan. 20 stop revealed a pound of marijuana and a gram of THC concentrate, authorities say. Police also found drug paraphernalia during two of the searches, the affidavit says. It’s unclear why Messmer wasn’t arrested during the Dec. 30 search. Police at the time declined comment because the investigation was ongoing.
South Central District Judge Bobbi Weiler suspended all but five years of a 15-year sentence on five of the charges. She sentenced him to five years in prison on the remaining four, all of which will be served at the same time. Messmer must also spend two years on probation after his release and was ordered to forfeit more than $53,000 confiscated in the investigations, court records show.
Messmer’s attorney, Scott Rose, declined comment on the case.
The second of three people arrested in a January oxycodone bust in Bismarck will spend 111 days in jail after pleading guilty to a drug charge on Thursday, court documents show.
Robert Rutland, 21, of Detroit was arrested after police say they found 118 oxycodone pills when executing a search warrant at a Bismarck apartment. Rutland pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of facilitating drug delivery. A felony drug conspiracy charge was dismissed, according to court records.
South Central District Judge David Reich suspended half of a 360-day sentenced and allowed Rutland credit for 69 days served. Rutland must also spend a year on unsupervised probation. Rutland’s attorney, Scott Rose, declined comment on the sentence.
Micah Sullivan, 21, of Inkster, Mich., on March 10 was placed on probation for 18 months in connection with the bust. Skye Davis, 21, of Bismarck, is scheduled to go to trial on June 16.
A judge on Thursday dismissed a felony child abuse charge against a Bismarck man after defense attorneys argued the evidence against him was hearsay and inadmissible, court documents show.
Police in December said Youness Moussaid, 33, struck his stepdaughter with a broomstick because she refused to wear clothing that reflected his religious beliefs. He was charged after Bismarck police were notified by school officials about visible signs of abuse, according to an affidavit.
Assistant Burleigh County State’s Attorney Anna Argenti on Thursday filed a motion to dismiss the charge because “the State does not have in its possession enough evidence to prove the case.” South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland signed an order to dismiss later in the day.
One of Moussaid’s attorneys, Lucas Wynne of Fargo, said “a great deal of sensationalism” surrounded the case and Moussaid “is glad to have cleared his name.”
The girl was photographed and interviewed during the investigation but “the report is void of any attempt to contact” Moussaid or his wife to obtain permission for the interview, according to a brief filed March 10 by Nicholas Nelson, a second attorney for Moussaid.
Moussaid’s wife was also interviewed, the brief states, but the record in that interview “is void of any reading of Miranda Rights” or explanation that a spouse is not required to testify against one’s spouse.
The statements made by the girl and the woman “are hearsay because they were all made out of court,” Nelson said in the brief, adding that “the statements will not be admissible at trial and should be suppressed.”
Police at the time of the alleged incident said Moussaid wanted the girl to “follow his Muslim beliefs, which includes wearing dress and hijab,” but the girl changed clothes when she got to school. Moussaid was accused of striking the girl, causing several bruises, and of grabbing the girl’s hair and striking her head against a wall, causing a quarter-size bump, an affidavit said. Police said the girl had a large bruise across the top of her right hand and bruises across the front of both thighs that were “consistent with the shape and size” of the broomstick Moussaid allegedly admitted to using, according to the affidavit.
A Williston woman died Wednesday in a two-vehicle crash on U.S. Highway 2 in Williston, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
Sarah Breslin, 35, was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Grace Reader, 27, of Williston. The patrol said Reader was southbound about 10:38 p.m. on 141st Avenue Northwest and failed to stop at stop sign. She entered Highway 2 in front of an eastbound GMC Yukon driven by Rachel Sanchez, 35, of Williston. Sanchez’s vehicle struck Reader’s on the passenger side. Breslin died at the scene, the patrol said.
Reader suffered serious injuries. Sanchez and a passenger in her vehicle, 18-year-old Hayley Jirash of Williston, suffered minor injuries. All three were taken to CHI St. Alexius Hospital in Williston.
The crash is under investigation by the highway patrol.
Authorities early Thursday arrested three people they say were in possession of dealer amounts of heroin and methamphetamine during a traffic stop in Morton County.
Tia Klein, 24, Bismarck, Shelby Schmaltz, 20, Mandan and Tanner Mitchell, 27, of Lincoln, were in a vehicle stopped by the Morton County Sheriff’s Office on North Dakota Highway 6. A search of the vehicle produced 3 ½ ounces of meth, more than 1 ½ ounces of heroin, a scale and other drug paraphernalia, according to an affidavit. Each is charged with five drug and drug paraphernalia felonies. Schmaltz additionally is charged with misdemeanor false reporting to law enforcement.
All three made their initial court appearances Thursday afternoon. They are in the Burleigh Morton Detention Center, each on $10,000 cash bail. Attorneys aren’t listed for them in court documents.
The driver of a vehicle who police say struck and killed a Mandan woman in September has been sentenced to 1 ½ years on probation, court documents show.
Gene Mosbrucker, 74, was charged with negligent homicide in the death of Shirley Lee, 79. Police in an affidavit said Lee was struck by a Suburban being backed up by Mosbrucker as she was walking across the parking lot of an apartment complex. She was taken for medical treatment and died at the hospital.
Mosbrucker pleaded guilty to the charge on Wednesday. South Central District Judge Pamela Nesvig suspended a one-year jail sentence and ordered Mosbrucker to pay about $9,000 in restitution. He must also write a letter of apology to Lee’s family, court documents show.
Mosbrucker’s attorney, Jackson Lofgren, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Two Detroit-area men on Tuesday pleaded guilty to drug charges stemming from a January bust in which McLean County authorities said they found $21,000 worth of illegal pills during a traffic stop.
Keron Carter-Whaley-El, 19, of Highland Park, Mich., and Daivon Perkins, 19, of Detroit, were arrested in late January. Police found 262 oxycodone pills during a search of their vehicle, according to an affidavit. Both were charged with possession with felony intent to deliver drugs.
South Central District Judge Bruce Romanick sentenced the men to 20 days in the McLean County Jail in addition to the 70 days they had served since their arrest, court records show. Each man was ordered to pay $60 in fines and fees.
Perkins’ attorney, Danny Herbel, said his client’s plea agreement results in a misdemeanor disposition and “is in the interests of justice.”
Carter-Whaley-El’s attorney, Philip Becher, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
A third man, Harvey Hull, 19, and also from the Detroit area, pleaded guilty in February. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and given credit for 29 days served.
BILLINGS, Mont. — A Florida man has pleaded innocent of a federal drug trafficking charge after his arrest in what authorities say was the largest meth seizure ever from a traffic stop in Montana.
Nicholas James Imhoff pleaded not guilty during a Monday appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan in Billings.
He was arrested Feb. 11 after a trooper allegedly found 78 pounds of methamphetamine in his rental minivan following a traffic stop near Columbus.
He’s charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
Cavan ordered Imhoff detained pending further proceedings, court records said. The defendant's attorney, Lance Lundvall, said Tuesday that he had no public comment on the case at this time.
The case highlights the continuing challenge law enforcement authorities in many Western states face from a steady flow of relatively cheap, high-potency methamphetamine brought in by Mexican drug cartels.
The influx of the drug has caused a surge in crime, with robberies, murders and assaults trending up in recent years in parts of the state, according to authorities.
Montana U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme told attendees at a recent drug treatment and prevention conference in Billings that the problem is not going away.
“Our law enforcement intelligence shows us high supply (of meth) is going to continue to keep availability high and prices low," he said. “One negative change is we expect more violence to come as the cartels vertically integrate further north and we start seeing more violence related to their involvement."
Imhoff was driving a minivan he had rented in Las Vegas five days earlier, court records said.
Imhoff said he was traveling to North Dakota. But the trooper said Imhoff could not provide an address in North Dakota, that his story seemed inconsistent and he was acting nervously, according to court documents
A K-9 unit alerted to drugs in the minivan, the trooper seized the vehicle and officials obtained a search warrant. The drugs were found under floor storage compartments in garbage bags, with some wrapped in duct tape, the documents state.
It’s the largest amount of meth ever seen in a single traffic stop, shattering the previous record of 27 pounds during a 2017 stop. The 78 pounds was more meth than the Montana Highway Patrol seized in all of 2017.