The Chicago Police Department will reconsider using an Illinois homicide law to arrest narcotics dealers whose customers die from their drugs, officials say.
For years, prosecutors in the collar counties have been filing such cases. They say it discourages drug sales and reduces the number of overdoses.
Eugene Roy, Chicago’s former chief of detectives, said he met about four years ago with state’s attorneys from DuPage, Will, Lake and McHenry counties to see how they used the law. Roy says he recommended Chicago develop protocols for deciding who should be arrested under the state’s drug-induced homicide statute, but the idea was “mothballed” after he retired in 2016.
Now, Brendan Deenihan, who was promoted last week to replace Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples, plans to take another look at the idea.
“He feels very strongly about this issue and is considering assembling a task force to investigate drug-induced homicides,” said Tom Ahern, a police spokesman.
Ahern said such investigations are complex because detectives need to prove the dealer knew that the drugs could kill the customer.
Roy said developing a strategy to arrest dealers for drug-induced homicide will require better coordination with the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Despite the staggering death total in Cook County last year — at least 1,151 people died of opioid poisoning, far more than the number of gunshot deaths — the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has charged just eight people with drug-induced homicide.
The Chicago police made only two of those arrests. One case involved the overdose death of the stepdaughter of a Chicago cop. A man charged in that case got a six-year prison sentence in 2018. The other Chicago case, from 2017, was quickly dismissed.
The six other cases involved arrests in Cook County suburbs. Three defendants got prison terms ranging from four to nine years. A Hinsdale man who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of drug possession got probation. A Midlothian woman pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter and got four years. The last defendant is awaiting trial.
In the collar counties, more drug-induced homicide charges have been brought in the past two years than Cook County prosecutors have brought in the last decade, according to news accounts. At least a dozen of those cases were filed in DuPage, McHenry, Kane and Lake counties since 2018.
Drug-induced homicide prosecutions are controversial. Some warn the fear of getting locked up can keep a dealer from calling 911 to seek help for an overdosing customer.
“Punitive measures threaten the progress we have made on the overdose crisis,” Brandon Marshall, a Brown University professor, wrote in an op-ed piece for The New York Times last year.
Roy’s answer to that: “I don’t think anybody is looking to prosecute somebody who rushes someone to the hospital. No, I think that excuses your criminal liability.”
For Sylvia Schaefer, it’s clear “the law should be enforced.” Schaefer’s son Joshua Bloomfield, a 29-year-old struggling with heroin addiction while trying to finish college, died last May 28.
“Refer to it as drug poisoning and not drug overdose,” Schaefer said. “My son didn’t kill himself. He wasn’t suicidal. He had great plans on the horizon.”
Schaefer said she and her son celebrated his birthday at her home in Cary in McHenry County, then he went home to Edgewater. Her son’s husband came home from an out-of-town trip and found him on the floor the next afternoon.
“We had information he met with somebody and obtained drugs,” Schaefer said.
She said her son loved hiking and camping and was a “good listener” with a “huge, beautiful smile.” Bloomfield started smoking marijuana at 14 and took prescription pills before he became a heroin user at 19.
“I remember having a sinking feeling that there was not going to be a turn back,” Schaefer said. “You don’t realize your capacity as a parent until you love somebody going through this.”
At first, the police said they couldn’t do anything because Bloomfield willingly took the heroin, according to Schaefer, who has been pressing for a homicide charge.
She has joined a group of about 40 parents whose sons and daughters have died from drug use. The organization — called druginducedhomicide.org — held a rally in Millennium Park last summer to call attention to the issue.
Schaefer compared the group with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“I think it’s similar,” she said. “We want to make a difference. You are already grieving, and then you have this battle to fight and feel nobody is listening. It’s heartbreaking for a parent.”