VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - The Volusia County Sheriff's Office has been working diligently with the state attorney's office and families of people who overdose to convict their drug dealers of murder.
Channel 9 spoke with Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who gave insight into their process of tracking dealers.
Officials begin with the phone of the person who overdosed, which usually leads them to the dealer through text messages. Then they'd need the dealer to sell the same narcotics to an undercover deputy.
Once the dealer is in custody, it all comes down to science. A medical examiner has to be able to link the drugs that a victim bought to their cause of death.
"These folks aren't criminals," Chitwood said. "They have an addiction problem. A severe addiction problem and these scumbag drug dealers are sentencing these people to death."
Jacqueline Griggs overdosed on fentanyl-laced drugs the day of her daughter's third birthday.
A grand jury later indicted Steve Montilla on first-degree murder charges in connection with Griggs' death. Montilla later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Volusia County averages 150 overdoses a year, but Chitwood said dealers don't care.
"They're stepping over bodies to make sales. They know people are dying," the sheriff said.
The state attorney's office told Channel 9 some of the cases are difficult because they have to be specifically proven.
The officer later released this statement:
First of all, the Office’s duty is to enhance public safety. By prosecuting these cases we hope to deter individuals from dealing and peddling these deadly drugs.
With that said, we look at the facts and circumstances of every case. We sit down with the victims’ families and get their perspective of what should happen to the defendant. Also, we actively seek the input and perspective of our law enforcement partners. They see the stark reality of the deaths from these unfortunately popular drugs.
One of the difficulties with these cases is what has to be specifically proven. We have to prove that individual sold the drugs that resulted in the overdose and death of that individual. It can be more difficult to connect the dots in some cases than it is in others.
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