San Francisco drug dealers could soon face murder charges for overdoses, Gov. Newsom announces

ByLena Howland, Suzanne Phan KGO logo
Saturday, October 28, 2023
SF drug dealers could face murder charges for overdoses, Newsom says
A new task force announced by Governor Newsom's office Friday will respond to deadly San Francisco overdoses like homicide cases.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Governor Newsom announced a new effort on Friday to hold drug dealers accountable on the streets of San Francisco.

His office announced a joint law enforcement task force that will treat overdoses as homicides.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins made this a campaign promise back in October 2022, while she served as interim DA. But now, it's a reality.

VIDEO: Here are reasons why San Francisco has a hard time convicting drug dealers

San Francisco's fentanyl epidemic continues to impact the city. Law enforcement says it's so difficult to convict drug dealers.

"Making sure that these dealers are admonished, that should they be connected to selling fentanyl to someone who overdoses, that they could be charged with murder because we have to hold these people accountable," Jenkin said in an October 2022 debate.

The number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses in San Francisco every month is alarming. City leaders say they are going after the dealers.

"These people who are dealing these drugs need to be held accountable in a way they have not been before," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

The new task force announced by Newsom's office on Friday will respond to deadly overdoses like homicide cases. That means they'll employ procedures to document deaths, gather evidence, and process intelligence to map out the supply of fentanyl, holding drug traffickers accountable.

"The objective is to make sure that we are looking into who is selling fentanyl to the individuals who are dying of overdoses on our streets every day that may allow my office to pursue murder charges against those sellers," said Jenkins.

Across California, prosecutors in Placer County and Riverside County have convicted drug dealers of murder.

VIDEO: CA man believed to be 1st fentanyl dealer convicted of murder for 15-year-old girl's overdose death

A 21-year-old man is now the first person in the state of California to be convicted of murder in the fentanyl death of a 15-year-old girl.

San Diego County already has a task force to help with investigations.

"There have been multiple convictions for second-degree murder under this degree in California. starting in Placer County, we had a conviction, similar by jury trial even Riverside County these prosecutions are happening in San Diego County," said Jenkins. "We need to get on board and do what we need to do here. Given the number of deaths we are experiencing."

With a team involving members of the San Francisco Police Department, the DA's office, CHP, and the California National Guard.

"I think really what we're concerned about is how is this policy going to be implemented and recognizing that the law enforcement activities to date, including increases in law enforcement overall have not reduced the suffering that we're seeing on the streets," Michael Discepola, the Director of Health at GLIDE said.

Discepola, the Director of Health at GLIDE, a nonprofit based in the Tenderloin, says with new state resources coming in, he worries about the destabilization of health and wellness within the community.

"One of the challenges I think that this type of policy creates is, I think drug dealers also prevent overdoses because we get Narcan in their hands, and will this prevent other individuals on the street from being willing to get involved to be able to reduce overdose on the street," he said.

The Gubbio Project is a nonprofit helping people on the streets. The director, Lydia Bransten, believes this is the wrong move.

MORE: SF Mayor Breed asks for federal assistance with city's drug crisis

"I understand people's desire for accountability but the question is what are they trying to achieve? Punishment does not reduce use," said Bransten.

The San Francisco Public Defender issued the following statement Friday:

"The task force's announcement today is another step in the wrong direction toward the continued revival of the failed War on Drugs in SF... Threatening to charge people with murder is unfortunately likely to result in more overdoses, as people will be afraid to call for help."

Jenkins says she hopes the task force and the push to prosecute drug dealers as murderers will serve as deterrents.

Governor Newsom said in a statement, "The opioid crisis has claimed too many, and fentanyl traffickers must be held accountable including, as appropriate, for murder. This task force is fighting for those affected by this crisis - for victims and loved ones who deserve peace."

The governor's office says this task force is expected to roll out early next year.

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