Why, when a nearly lifeless, heavily drugged teenager is found by paramedics at midday in the private residence of two adults with whom he has no identifiable relationship, and when the adults have no reasonable explanation for why the teenager was in their home in the first place, and when at least one of the two adults has a criminal record, is the residence not secured properly – at least in the short term – or given even cursory professional investigation as a potential crime scene? This omission strikes me as something our community would find problematic. I mean, wouldn’t this scene seem a little fishy to you, and especially if you were a trained law enforcement professional?
Perhaps an investigation would turn up no evidence of potential criminal activity at the scene where the teen was found. But shouldn’t local law enforcement treat this scenario as a crime scene until they know for sure how this high school senior ended up near death in these random adults’ residence at noon on a weekday? Wouldn’t you think they would WANT to know what the heck was going on in this residence, and determine for themselves precisely what the nature of these adults’ relationship to this teenager was?
According to federal authorities, yes…yes they should. To wit:
…officers should secure the crime scene (NOTE : the author is referring to the site of an overdose critical injury or fatality as the “crime scene”) as if it were the site of a homicide. They should direct nonessential personnel, such as emergency medical workers, and family members away from the area and document everyone who enters it. Homicide and drug investigators, as well as crime scene technicians, should be called to the site. Before anything is disturbed, the entire scene should be photographed, including the victim. Only then should the victim be turned over to the medical examiner for an autopsy. Finally, investigators should perform an organized search to gather physical evidence.
Drug crimes usually yield two valuable pieces of evidence not always present in other crimes. First, investigators should pay particular attention to any items of paraphernalia that could be used to package and store drugs, as well as to mechanisms that someone could use to ingest a drug. Heroin typically is packaged in small glassine or wax bags about the size of a quarter and then is ingested by either snorting it through the nose or injecting it into the body. During the search, investigators should look for cut drinking straws or rolled paper, such as dollar bills, used to snort heroin. To inject heroin, users must liquefy it, typically accomplished by heating the heroin and some water on a spoon with a candle or cigarette lighter. Therefore, investigators also should search for spoons, heat sources, and hypodermic needles used to inject heroin. Because prescription drugs can be crushed and snorted, investigators should look for pill bottles and devices capable of crushing hard pills into a powder.
Items of drug paraphernalia prove especially important because they may contain samples of the drug. Officers should carefully package objects suspected of containing drugs or drug residue in separate containers and transfer them to a laboratory for analysis to determine the specific drug, its purity level, and any adulterants or other substances combined with it. Advances in technology have enabled some laboratories to conduct a signature analysis of the drugs that provides its specific chemical composition, or signature,6 which then can be compared with that of another sample of drugs to help determine if both originated from the same batch. This test can prove crucial in linking the drugs found on an overdose victim back to the original dealer. In addition to chemical testing, investigators should request that the submitted evidence be examined for latent fingerprints.
(I know I am not supposed to even MENTION this stuff publicly. I am supposed to sit back month after month and continue to express total confidence that everything is being investigated thoroughly and aggressively. But I gotta tell you, this is becoming increasingly difficult for me to do. My child was hospitalized April 27th and died May 31. It is now August 25th.)
April 27, 2010
May 31, 2010
Please know that I have not made the decision to share these very upsetting, painful, intimate photos of my child lightly. I’ve agonized over it. But after a lot of thought, I decided that I want this community to see more clearly than my words can convey what happened to my child.
Some would argue, I know, that fatal overdoses from illicit drugs – or those leading to critical injury – should simply be treated as unfortunate accidents that don’t necessitate any criminal investigation or potential prosecution for anyone involved. Again, federal law enforcement authorities disagree and have some specific guidance for communities battling the scourge of opiate addiction and overdose, as we clearly are in Knoxville, Tennessee:
A drug overdose that drew national media attention inspired the creation of a law that now allows investigators to target drug trafficking organizations responsible for overdose deaths. In June 1986, the Boston Celtics’ first-round draft pick, Len Bias, was found dead in his college dormitory from a drug overdose. That same year, in response to Bias’ death, as well as to the proliferation of crack cocaine, Congress enacted new federal drug laws. One of the provisions, commonly referred to as the Len Bias Law, provides for a mandatory minimum term of incarceration for 20 years and a maximum life sentence for a dealer who distributes drugs that cause death or serious bodily injury.9 Therefore, drug dealers face a penalty of no less than 20 years in federal prison if it can be determined that the drugs they sold caused the overdose, regardless of the quantity. In federal, as well as most state, prosecutions, sentences for drug crimes are determined by the quantity of drugs sold. In cases involving an overdose, however, the quantity of drug sold is secondary, possibly even irrelevant, in determining a defendant’s sentence. It is not necessary that the victim die from a drug overdose for this law to apply. The Len Bias Law provides for the same punishment if death or serious bodily injury occurs as a result of the drugs.10 Federal law defines serious bodily injury as that which involves, “a substantial risk of death; protracted and obvious disfigurement; or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.”11 If the victim suffers a drug overdose but does not die, investigators should consult with their prosecutor to determine if the overdose falls within the definition of serious bodily injury.
All law enforcement agencies should join in this effort to investigate these crimes. The benefit of investigating drug overdoses derives from the enhanced sentencing provision of the law. Faced with lengthy jail terms, as well as the desire not to be associated with a death, suspects and potential defendants may be more apt to cooperate with law enforcement than in other investigations. Cooperation may allow defendants to escape the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. To this end, investigators may be able to quickly garner the assistance of suspects, thereby rapidly identifying and targeting other persons working up the chain of supply. Rather than targeting a single dealer, investigations should aim to identify all individuals involved in the chain of distribution of the drugs to the victim, thus dismantling an entire organization.
Let me be as clear as I can: based on what I know with significant certainty about what happened to my teenage son – both with regard to the assault and the overdose he suffered – there is a HIGH likelihood that someone else’s teenage or young adult son or daughter in our community will also overdose and die in a similar fashion unless investigators and prosecutors treat Henry’s death as something other than an unfortunate accident attributable only to my son’s admitted drug problem. And that breaks my heart. Because I can’t ever have my child back, but no one else should lose their beloved boy or girl because no one in authority cared enough about this case to truly advocate for the very best investigation and at least an attempt at prosecution.
Henry with his little brother and sisters (he’s holding C), plus cousins at our annual family beach trip.
Yesterday Henry’s little brother, E, who is 12, asked me why the people who gave his big brother the drugs that hurt him haven’t been arrested. I told him I couldn’t really answer that. He asked me if the people who hit Henry in the head and chest had been arrested. I told him they hadn’t. Then he asked me if the grown-ups who refused to call 911 for a long while when Henry was lying unconscious and barely breathing right in front of them were in any kind of trouble. I told him no, not so far. He was very confused.
So am I.