MCSO provides drug overdose update

Press release from Morgan County Sheriff’s Office

Shortly after his election in 2018, Sheriff Wayne Potter saw that heroin and fentanyl were quickly becoming the predominate street drug that the Sheriff’s Office encountered when making drug arrest. While talking with neighboring Sheriff’s Departments he found that this was also occurring in surrounding counties including Scott, Fentress, Roane, and Cumberland Counties. With increased heroin use comes an increase in overdose cases. These overdoses far too often result in death. Sheriff Potter instructed his investigators to treat these overdose deaths as murder cases and to proceed with murder charges if the drug supplier was identified. In 2019 Senator Ken Yager sponsored legislation to amend our existing laws to allow for harsher sentencing and punishments for pushing these types of drugs.

Tennessee authorizes these charges under the second-degree murder statute. TCA 39-13-210 reads as follows: Second degree murder is: (1) A knowing killing of another; (2) A killing of another that results from the unlawful distribution of any Schedule I or Schedule II drug, when the drug is the proximate cause of death of the user, or (3) A killing of another by unlawful distribution or unlawful delivery or unlawful dispensation of fentanyl.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office’s first case came on 9-16-2019 when a man in his early 20’s in the Coalfield Community died from a fentanyl/heroin overdose. The Sheriff’s office conducted an intensive investigation and discovered that another individual from Coalfield was involved in selling the fatal overdose to the victim. The Defendant was subsequently charged with second degree murder and arrested. Two other suspects were arrested in connection with the overdose death. The Defendant is currently serving a sentence. One of the other suspects has pled guilty to a lesser charge and is serving a sentence with the Tennessee Department of Corrections as well.

The second overdose incident investigated in this manner by the Sheriff’s Office began on 8-1-2020 when Investigators responded to a young man also in his 20’s was found dead on Camp Austin Road in the Oakdale community. Investigators with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation into his death. The Regional Forensic Center determined that he died from a fatal heroin/fentanyl overdose. Investigators tracked his movements prior to his overdose death and concluded that on the day before his death, he had traveled to Knoxville and met with a man to purchase heroin. It was determined that this heroin was indeed the dose that caused the fatal overdose. Investigators with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office who are assigned as task force officers with the FBI in Knoxville conducted undercover drug buys on the drug dealer in Knoxville. The same drug dealer was monitored by law enforcement was arrested driving into Morgan County with almost an ounce of heroin. Eventually, investigators gathered enough evidence to charge the Knoxville suspect with second degree murder in the death of the young man from Oakdale. The suspect has been arrested and is currently awaiting trial.

The third incident occurred on 12-30-2020. Investigators responded to a home on Rome Road in Deer lodge and found another male suspect dead from a heroin/fentanyl overdose. He was 35 years old. Investigators quickly determined that he had purchased the fatal dose of heroin from a known drug dealer who also lived in the Deer lodge community. Officers served a search warrant on the suspect’s home and recovered narcotics, drug selling paraphernalia, and firearms. The suspect was subsequently indicted and charged with second degree murder. He was arrested a short time later and is still awaiting trial. This investigation also branched out into Knoxville where the heroin ultimately came from.

The fourth incident occurred on 5-21-21. Officers responded to “Jack’s Place” gas station in Oakdale to find a young lady in her early 20’s dead in the parking lot from a fatal heroin/fentanyl overdose. Investigators began working on the case and quickly developed a suspect. Investigators learned that she acquired the fatal dose of heroin from a woman in Rockwood Tn. In a joint investigation between the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office and the Roane County Sheriff’s Office, Investigators gathered enough evidence to charge 3 suspects with second degree murder. Two of the 3 suspects have been arrested and are awaiting trial.

Currently, the Morgan County Sheriff’s office is conducting overdose investigations into four other overdose deaths. “These are extremely labor-intensive investigations to undertake. They take a lot of man hours and usually involve numerous interviews, search warrants, and undercover drug buys. These investigations can literally take months.” According to Wayne Potter. Sheriff Potter also explained that most of the heroin that his officers are encountering in Morgan County initially comes from Detroit Michigan. “My investigators usually see the same pattern when they work these cases. The heroin is picked up in Knoxville by our local dealers. It makes its way from Detroit Michigan to Knoxville.” Potter also adds that his investigators have worked closely with the FBI, the Knoxville Police Department, the Roane County Sheriff’s Office, and the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in these drug overdose cases. Potter said that he would continue to aggressively charge the poisoners of his communities that prey on the vulnerable. He adds that putting these drug dealers in prison for murder takes them out of the communities and gives the most vulnerable citizens time to heal and seek treatment. In total, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office has charged (8) people with 2nd degree murder in the past 2 years. “My officers are currently administering Narcan to overdose victims on a weekly basis. Not only are my officers patrolling our neighborhoods, but I’ve also now had to ask them to become medics to combat the heroin crisis that is currently plaguing Morgan County. These deaths would skyrocket if it wasn’t for my guys and EMS administering Narcan to overdose patients quickly.” Potter wants anyone that is suffering from a drug addiction to seek help for their illness before it is too late. Heroin is generally “cut” with fentanyl to make the substance much more potent. Fentanyl is approximately 100 times more powerful than morphine. A tiny amount the size of a ball point pen head could be enough to kill a full-grown human. Sheriff Potter wants the community to know that the Sheriff’s Office has seen a positive change due to Drug Rehab Programs in the county. Potter says that he personally has seen you can recover from the addiction. He wants the community to keep praying for those who are addicted and keep his department in your thoughts and prayers as they work to fight this drug pandemic.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office has left the victims and defendants names out due to ongoing Investigations. All defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

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