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Pushing back on pushers

Prosecuting drug deaths more aggressively
Posted at 7:18 PM, Dec 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-12 21:18:22-05

TUCSON, Ariz. - Fentanyl is so powerful, a tiny amount can kill -- and drug users may think they were really taking a different drug.

The commander of Counter Narcotics Alliance says dealers know Fentanyl is likely to be in any pill that they sell and that raises the chance they'll face tougher prosecution if a customer dies.

Fentanyl is so powerful and deadly it's changed the world of illegal drugs -- and changed how law enforcement prosecutes drug dealers.

The Regional Counter Narcotics Alliance is working to come down hard on pushers -- whose products lead to a death.

Tucson Police body cameras recorded video of officers trying to save six drug users overdosed on Fentanyl. The Narcan drug antodote officers carry could save only five.

Now Jocelyn Lopez Sanchez is facing Federal charges of smuggling Fentanyl from Mexico, plus charges connected to the death of one victim and the near deaths of the other five.

Counter Narcotics Alliance Commander Captain John Leavitt says dealers understand almost any pill they push contains fentanyl and users may not understand the danger they're in.

"And there's an awful lot of people at all ranges of ages that are dying from drug misuse and people are tuned to that so they're paying attention to it and they're very supportive of what we're doing in the way of enforcement."

And that enforcement may move from state to Federal based on which jurisdiction offers the toughest penalties that fit the facts of the case.

Captain Leavitt says in the death of a UA student, Gabrielle ElBaz and Teigan Tinsley got four years probation in state court because it was harder to remove doubt about a direct connection between the drugs and the death.

He says, “You know, five years ago, three years ago nobody would have prosecuted on that case because they would have simply looked at it as a terrible tragedy, and now we look for the criminality in the person who's dealing the drugs. If you're dealing pills today and you know that they've got fentanyl in them and you know people are dying from that, you know, we think you're criminally culpable and so we work with the county attorney in those cases to try to get people to prosecution."

But dealers are getting convicted on drug deaths.

Captain Leavitt says a Pima County case led to a plea of negligent homicide and grand juries across the state are more likely to level criminal negligence or homicide charges when drugs lead to death.