Chicago May Begin Prosecuting Dealers For Overdose Deaths

By Kelly Burch 04/09/19

The Chicago Police Department plans to create a task force to investigate drug deaths and prosecute dealers under the state’s drug-induced homicide law. 

Chicago judge hearing a case

When someone dies of an overdose, is it their own responsibility, or should the person who provided the drugs be held criminally liable? 

That’s the question that law enforcement and prosecutors around the country have been asking, and in Chicago the answer is beginning to change. Although the Chicago Police Department has not investigated drug deaths as homicides in the past, it is beginning to do so, according to CBS

“It’s becoming an epidemic, so we need to do what we can to reduce that,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. 

The Chicago Police Department now has plans to create a task force to investigate drug-related deaths and prosecute dealers under the state’s drug-induced homicide law.

The Chicago Police Department has been inspired in part by the success of prosecuting drug dealers in nearby McHenry County. There, police and prosecutors target dealers in overdose deaths. 

“Every single overdose case that happens in McHenry County, we assign a lawyer to work with police,” said McHenry County State’s Attorney, Patrick Kenneally. His office has prosecuted about 20 drug-induced homicide cases in the past three years, including 8 in 2017, when there were 80 overdose deaths in the county. The next year there were 51 overdoses, and 15 prosecutions for drug-induced homicide. 

“This, we truly believe, is tangibly resulting in lives being saved,” Kenneally said. 

In Chicago, only one overdose case has resulted in prosecution in the past four years. The victim in the case was the 18-year-old stepdaughter of Theresa Almanza, a police officer.

Despite Almanza’s law enforcement experience, she was told that the city would do nothing to prosecute the people who provided her stepdaughter with drugs. 

Almanza said, “The Chicago police department told me they don’t investigate these cases criminally. That Sydney made a choice and they weren’t going to investigate it.”

The department said that the cases were difficult to prove, costly and time-consuming. However, Almanza didn’t give up, and eventually Brent Tyssen and Cynthia Parker were charged in connection with Sydney’s death.

Tyssen was sentenced to six years in jail, while Parker was placed on probation. Almanza hopes that sentences like these will deter people from selling drugs, and help stem overdose deaths. 

Now others, including police superintendent Johnson, are willing to give the strategy a try. 

Johnson said, “I’m confident we’ll be able to model what they have out in McHenry County. Our children, their lives matter too, and these cases must be investigated criminally.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.