Valerie DeCaro-Garcia spent some of her Mother’s Day trying to bring attention to a law rarely used in Cook County.
When her brother, Anthony DeCaro, died of fentanyl toxicity in 2016, she thought his death would be investigated as a homicide.
After all, the Illinois Drug Induced Homicide Law has been on the books for 30 years.
Under the law, a person commits drug-induced homicide when he or she “unlawfully” delivers a controlled substance to another, and any person’s death is caused by the “inhalation, absorption or ingestion of any amount of that controlled substance.”
Drug-induced homicide is a Class X felony.
Since 2014, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has approved drug-induced homicide charges in only six cases.
DeCaro-Garcia said she was stunned when a Chicago police detective told her “they don’t investigate cases like that.”
“We were so naive, we just assumed the police were going to investigate. We gave them the text messages and video footage. We were told we needed to wait for the toxicology report, and that took four months,” DeCaro-Garcia said after a Sunday rally downtown aimed to raise awareness on the matter.
“The detectives kept putting us off, but we got the death certificate and the cause of death was on there as fentanyl. We asked if they would investigate and they told us the only way they would investigate would be if there was proof that the person ‘forced’ my brother to take the drug.”
A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said, “Detectives respond to and investigate all overdose deaths.”
“Chicago police officers who also work with our law enforcement partners respond to the scene where multiple overdoses are occurring,” the spokesman added.
Still, the paltry number of drug dealers charged with drug-induced homicide shows this isn’t a priority.
“In my opinion if you poison somebody to death, you are going to go to jail. They delivered a substance that resulted in a death,” DeCaro-Garcia points out.
Theresa Almanza, a police officer, started RISEUP the advocacy group that organized Sunday’s rally, after her 18-year-old daughter died from using MDMA, known as ecstasy, in 2015.
Brent Tyssen and Cynthia Parker were convicted of drug-induced homicide. Tyssen was given six years in prison. Because Parker was 17 at the time of the crime, she was put on probation.
“Since 2015, 2,600 people have died just in Chicago from drug overdoses and only one case has resulted in a drug-induced homicide case, and that’s my daughter’s case,” Almanza told me.
“If I hadn’t fought the way that I did for my daughter, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s unacceptable.”
Almanza pointed out that while Tyssen and Parker were out on bond, they allegedly sold 110 hits of LSD and a gram of ecstasy to an undercover cop.
Our attitudes about people who use drugs further complicate this issue.
Although Gov. J.B. Pritzker supports the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, a measure that would automatically expunge hundreds of marijuana convictions, a lot of people still see drug use as a moral failing.
In his or her eyes, someone dying after shooting up or snorting is a tragedy, not a crime.
But with so many people dying from drug overdoses and tainted drugs, tracking the source of those drugs ought to be a priority.
“Most of the people who are involved in RISEUP are people who know who delivered the controlled substance to their loved ones or have evidence on cellphones or a text message,” Garcia told me.
“They basically did their whole jobs for them.”
Unfortunately, too many of us still think drug users aren’t worth saving. But that drug user was someone who someone loved.
“People are always saying that we are trying to reframe the blame or fault the drug dealer,” Almanza said.
“Since when do we defend drug dealers? Since when do we excuse the behavior of drug dealers? Our children received the most severe consequences for their choice, but none of them chose to die.”
“If their rationale is [the drug user] chose to do those drugs, take the same rationale and apply it to the drug dealer. Our children didn’t walk away unscathed. We just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to somebody else,” Almanza added.
“We have to hold [drug-dealers] accountable.”