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New San Francisco anti-opioid task force could charge dealers with homicide in overdose deaths

Task force recommends some drug dealers be charged with murder
New San Francisco anti-opioid task force could charge some drug dealers with murder 03:50

SAN FRANCISCO -- A new joint law enforcement task force to investigate opioid-linked deaths in order to hold drug dealers accountable in San Francisco was announced Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and city officials.

The new task force is aimed at building on the state's existing law enforcement partnership with San Francisco launched earlier this year that instructed the California Highway Patrol and California National Guard to use their resources to assist the city with its fentanyl trafficking crisis.

The task force's mission will be to investigate opioid overdose deaths like homicides and pass along evidence to prosecutors connecting drug deaths to specific dealers. 

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The governor's office along with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, SF District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, and SFPD Chief Bill Scott announced the formation of the new task force that will include participation from the San Francisco Police Department, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, the CHP and the California National Guard.

"The task force will treat opioid deaths in San Francisco similar to homicide cases — employing standard operating procedures to document deaths, gather relevant evidence, process intelligence to further map out the supply of fentanyl and large crime syndicates, and hold drug traffickers accountable," the release on the task force said.

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"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," Newsom was quoted in the release. "Working together, we will continue providing treatment and resources to help those struggling with substance use — and secure justice for families who have lost loved ones."  

"If someone dies from a drug overdose here in San Francisco, and we investigate it and discover that there is evidence leading back to the dealer, that dealer could be held accountable for murder," Mayor London Breed said at a press event to promote the new task force.

But San Francisco has occasionally struggled just to convict dealers, who often claim they are selling drugs because they are being trafficked to do so.

"We did recently secure a guilty verdict in a drug-dealing case where that was asserted, and the San Francisco juries are waking up to the fact that these are people who are choosing to be here on our streets, selling the most lethal drug we've ever seen in San Francisco," said Jenkins.

ALSO READ: San Francisco health officials hope data on drug use will provide answers in fentanyl crisis

San Francisco has seen some significant success from the deployment of CHP to combat the opioid crisis. In the first six weeks of the operation that started in April, the California Highway Patrol seized enough fentanyl to kill off the city's entire population nearly three times over.

However, there were some who questioned the possible effectiveness of the plan.

"The task force announced today is another step in the wrong direction toward the continued revival of the failed war on drugs in SF," read a statement released by the San Francisco Public Defender's Office.

"Posters like that," Victor said of a nearby memorial for someone lost to overdose. "Posters for people trying to find their kids or other family members, things like that. Yeah."

Victor is standing on one of the more notorious corners in the Tenderloin. Just a few feet away friends and family were creating a memorial for a woman lost just days before. The drugs that are driving up the death toll draw a crowd every day. Victor among them.

"You're going to move to where it's most abundant," he said. 

And his thoughts on the newly announced plan?

"It's going to discourage a handful of a handful of people," he said.  

Victor told KPIX he didn't think serious dealers would be swayed by the deterrent. But he says something is changing the drug market on the sidewalks.

"Since they had that collaboration with the highway patrol and all that s--t, they are bouncing out anywhere," Victor said of the crackdown that began earlier this year. "Anywhere they can find people. They're doing raids on every block. They're circling all the time. It's extra hot."

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