Authorities followed digital footprints among suspected drug dealers in building a homicide case in the 2017 overdose death of a River Falls man, according to charges filed this week in Pierce County Circuit Court.
Arrest warrants were issued Thursday, April 18, for 31-year-old Orlando P. Eaton of St. Paul and 28-year-old Dante J. Ackerman of Lakeland, Minn. Both men are charged with first-degree reckless homicide as party to a crime in the May 9, 2017, overdose death of Patrick Pace, a 2003 River Falls High School graduate.
Court records indicate the Attorney General's Office is assisting prosecutors in the case.
According to a criminal complaint:
River Falls police responded May 10, 2017, to 401 Church St. for an unattended death. Officers found Pace dead in his bedroom with a gem pack of suspected heroin beside it. The substance later tested positive for heroin.
Days later, a woman told police she had information that Ackerman may have been at the Church Street house with Pace on the night he died.
Police spoke with a Drug Enforcement Administration agent about Ackerman and learned the agent had just been contacted by a St. Croix County Sheriff's Office investigator about Ackerman as well. Records show DEA agents had been investigating Eaton and another St. Paul man since April 2017.
The St. Croix County investigator told River Falls police that an informant had discussed two St. Paul drug dealers and named "Pete" among them. "Pete," investigators learned, was one of Eaton's nicknames.
A person identified as a "cooperating defendant" told agents that Eaton had been a heroin source. St. Croix County investigators also suspected Ackerman was connected with Eaton; cellphone analysis revealed a high volume of calls between the men in the spring of 2017.
Agents also learned Pace had contacted Eaton four times in March 2017 and twice on the day he died.
That May, 9, 2017, contact - a group text that included Pace, Eaton, Ackerman and others - included a message from Eaton saying "I'm good the best." Investigators said that reference was code for the quality of the drugs he supplied.
Agents discovered a text chain the afternoon of May 9 in which Ackerman tells Pace he's coming to get him. Location data indicates Ackerman picked up Pace in River Falls around 3:11 p.m. that day.
Additional messages sent by the men placed them heading west toward the Twin Cities, where Pace calls Eaton's phone at 3:50 p.m..
Contacts from both men's phones show them at Eaton's St. Paul residence around 4 p.m. The location of Eaton's phone moves from Arden Hills, Minn., to his residence over the course of several minutes while being contacted by the others.
Pace's phone places him back in River Falls around 7:36 p.m. Ackerman's phone location places him at Pace's residence between 9:41 p.m. and 11 p.m. Ackerman's phone is later traced to Hudson before the Lakeland area.
DEA agents, along with St. Paul police, launched an undercover drug buy June 6, 2017, where Eaton sold 2 grams for heroin for $400.
Authorities stopped Ackerman on June 19, 2017, in Washington (Minn.) County, after tracking his vehicle through GPS technology. Officers seized his phone during the encounter.
Forensic analysis of Ackerman's phone revealed a May 14, 2017, text mentioning how his "best friend Pat O.D.'d the other day." The conversation went on to say he was "shook up" because he had "no phone in a basement where I coildnt lift him or get him to where I could get an ambulance."
Ackerman also mentioned in the text how he spent hours trying to save him, but that his efforts to perform CPR may have made things worse.
In a 2018 interview with River Falls police, Eaton admitted to being a drug "runner" - someone who shuttles drugs between a supplier and a user - and that he had arranged heroin transactions between a different dealer and Pace and Ackerman in the past.
In interviews with police, Ackerman admitted to buying heroin through Eaton in the past, though not the fatal dose.