11 face homicide charges following Knoxville overdose deaths

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- District Attorney Charme Allen and The Knoxville Police Department gave a strong warning to drug dealers Tuesday.

PHOTO: Opioid Pills, Photo Date: 2/14/2015

"Don't do drugs in our community, your drugs are killing our citizens. We will charge you with homicide every single time we can prove it," District Attorney Charme Allen said.

Prior to the creation of the Drug Related Task Force, Allen said only seven people had been charged in relation to an overdose death in the history of the office. Since the task force started 13 months ago, 11 have been charged.

The Knoxville Police Department said they see about three overdose deaths a week. KPD is just one of several agencies that assist in the task force. The entire group under the direction of Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, consists of the Knox County District Attorney, Knox County Sheriff's Office, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and Knox County Regional Forensic Center.

Commander of the Knoxville Police Drug Related Task Force Sgt. Josh Shaffer said the priority has been to hold drug dealers accountable when their drug trafficking leads to overdose deaths.

"When you are profiting off someone's pain and addiction for your sole gain and you cause their death, absolutely you should be held responsible," Shaffer said.

The task force was designed to investigate overdose deaths and gain intelligence about other dealers across the country.

Shaffer said many Tennessee overdose deaths have leads or connections to dealers from other states and that meth is resurfacing as a popular drug of choice.

"There's a lot of it out there, it's purer and stronger and people's bodies aren't reacting to it," Shaffer said.

Shaffer said those who face murder or homicide charges have been surprised to find they could be held responsible for several deaths.

"Sometimes they seem sympathetic, remorseful, sometimes it's argumentative and confrontational about how they aren't responsible. Sometimes it's disbelief they either struggle with the reality of someone's death or they never thought they could be held responsible for it," Shaffer said.