Saturday, June 3, 2023

The SF-Mendo-Humboldt Fentanyl Pipeline is Surging—Overdoses are Rising—the Mendo DA Warns of Reductions in Prison Sentences

Two Humboldt County men have pled guilty in Mendocino County to transporting fentanyl purchased in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. 

On February 11, 2022, a Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office deputy observed a Ford Mustang occupied by Eureka men, 70-year-old Robin Bradshaw and 30-year-old Tyler Trujillo, make abrupt maneuvers that suggested the pair were evading law enforcement. A traffic stop ensued and the men threw the half-pound of fentanyl down a nearby embankment. On May 3, the pair were sentenced to eight years in state prison.

In yesterday’s Facebook post, Mendocino County District Attorney Dave Eyster noted that the convergence of Proposition 57 and emergency provisions adopted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could reduce the traffickers’ prison sentence by as much as 66.6% of their sentence. This means, for example, an offender sentenced to ten years could see their total prison time reduced to four years.

Humboldt County’s Drug Task Force busted a vehicle inbound from the Bay Area as it crossed the Mendocino County line with 3.5 ounces of fentanyl, a scale, and packaging [Picture from the HCDTF]

The Mendocino/Humboldt County corridor has been inundated with fentanyl. Multiple law enforcement agencies stated that the synthetic opioid is being bought within San Francisco’s Tenderloin district and brought to North Coast counties where overdoses have become part of the landscape. 

According to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, “In 2020, the county saw 11 Fentanyl related deaths. In 2021, there were 33 Fentanyl related deaths, accounting for almost 10% of all deaths recorded by the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office for the year.”

According to the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard, in 2020 Mendocino County experienced 25.8 opioid overdose deaths for every 100,000 residents. Mendocino County ranks in the state’s top 25% for it opiod overdose death rate.  

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As law enforcement works to try to cut off the supply, overdoses are rising and local leaders are working to identify the forces that have led to fentanyl taking root in the Emerald Triangle.

Fentanyl has made its way into Mendocino County’s communities. Dozens of residents have been arrested in possession of the narcotic. Native American communities in Round Valley and Lake County have experienced rashes of overdoses from the drug. Narcan is now a standard piece of equipment in any first responders toolkit. 

Data presented by the California Department of Public Health’s Overdose Surveillance dashboard shows Mendocino County has experienced a rise in fentanyl deaths since the beginning of 2019 and remains on an upward trajectory.

Humboldt County has also experienced a rise in fentanyl deaths interestingly also beginning in 2019.

A map of California that displays the distribution of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2020 across the state shows Mendocino and Sonoma Counties have some of the highest rates of opioid deaths in the state when adjusted for population.

The Center for Disease Control determined in March 2021 that there were five states where rural counties saw higher rates of drug overdoses than urban areas: Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and California.

Comparison of a U.S. penny to a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl [Photograph from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration]

As fentanyl ravages the North Coast, local leaders are looking to find structural deficiencies that are enabling the drug’s distribution.  The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors sent San Francisco’s District Attorney Chesa Boudin a call to action, demanding his agency seek higher penalties against those in his jurisdiction trafficking or selling the narcotic. 

They argued Boudin’s charging and sentencing practices not only exacerbated the opioid epidemic in San Francisco but surrounding counties. The letter stated Humboldt County would not sit “idly by while this drug pours into our county from the Tenderloin.” They went as far as to threaten litigation: “If we cannot reach an acceptable solution, we may consider a legal remedy. We look forward to hearing from your office on this most important issue.”

Mendocino County’s Board of Supervisors has not touched on the fentanyl issue. Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall and his agency have encountered the synthetic opioid in a number of contexts such as responding to multiple overdoses just in the last few months, having a corrections officer exposed to the drug, and the usual enforcement role their agency serves.

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2.4 ounces of fentanyl and array of other narcotics were found in the possession of a Mendocino County pair while they were in Eureka [Picture from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office]

District Attorney Eyster’s press release could very well be the first occurrence of a Mendocino County official expressing concerns about larger, systemic barriers to punishing those peddling the dangerous drug.

Rather than point toward the prosecutorial practices like the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, DA Eyster identifies voter-approved Proposition 57 as an impediment to punishment. 

In 2016 voters approved Proposition 57, packaged as a vehicle for criminal justice reform allowing non-violent offenders to be released from state prison once they served their full sentence for primary criminal offenses, rather than serving extra time for sentencing enhancements often given to repeat offenders. 

Opponents of the proposition expressed concern that potentially dangerous offenders could be released into the public due to the improper classification of crimes as non-violent.

Two ounces of fentanyl, a .38 caliber revolver, and a digital scale located by Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies in Rio Dell [Picture from HCSO]

In DA Eyster’s press release, he paints a detailed picture of the potential lethality of the fentanyl confiscated by Mendocino County deputies: “a single 2-milligram dose of fentanyl (there are 226,796 milligrams in a half pound of this synthetic opioid) is lethal for most people, meaning that these two crooks were carrying enough fentanyl back to Eureka to overdose and kill up to 113,398 people.” His math checks out. 2 milligrams is considered the standard lethal dose of the drug corroborated by the CDC, DEA, and other health care agencies.

Considering the drug’s potential lethality, DA Eyster seems to be making the case that the characterization of these men’s crimes as “non-violent” is inaccurate. DA Eyster’s suggestion is not without precedent. California has seen the District Attorney of Riverside, Placer, San Bernadino, and Orange Counties either charge fentanyl dealers with murder when the product results in the death of a customer or announced intentions to do so. 

DA Eyster’s concerns about shorter sentences are amplified by emergency provisions adopted by the California Department of Corrections adopted in May 2021. A press release issued by the CDCR stated that these changes were not “an early release program, and these changes do not result in the automatic release of an incarcerated individual.”

Reporter Katy Grimes interviewed California Attorney General Candidate and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert who argued these provisions would result in the early release of violent offenders and represent the CDCR’s failure to allow the people of California a voice in the decision-making. 

15,000 “M30” fentanyl pills and multiple firearms seized in one operation by the Humboldt County Drug Task Force marked the largest seizure of fentanyl in its history [Picture from the HCDTF]

In December 2021, Schubert and twenty-seven other district attorneys (absent from that list is Mendocino County’s own Dave Eyster) were granted a Temporary Restraining Order halting efforts of the CDCR to enact these emergency guidelines. 

District Attorney Schubert said that the CDCR intended to increase the “good conduct credit” afforded to offenders from 50% to 66.6% of their total prison sentence for inmates with previous serious or violent offenses. 

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District Attorney Schubert said these regulations would result in two-thirds time off sentences for offenders convicted of “domestic violence, human trafficking, animal cruelty, and possession of weapons by individuals who have previous convictions for serious and violent felonies.” She added, “Most people would be surprised to learn that under California law, crimes like felony domestic violence and human trafficking are not ‘violent’ felonies.”

District Attorney Schubert argued these unilateral decisions by CDCR show the agency believes, “they can increase conduct credits by 100% without ever giving victims and the public the right to meaningful participation in this process.” 

As our legislators and local leaders work towards solving the fentanyl problem, overdoses continue to rise. The American Medical Association released a report on May 12, 2022, entitled “Nation’s Drug-Related Overdose and Death Epidemic Continues to Worsen“. Our communities might be emerging from the COVID-19 epidemic, but the grip of addiction is getting tighter. 

For those that might read this who personally suffer from addiction or are concerned for a loved one falling into addiction, remember that treatment can help and is available:

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    • Does nobody else notice a correlation between fentanyl outbreaks and politicians who become rich off china’s bribes like Hunter, Pelosi and Feinstein, Follow the money

  1. Prohibition only creates crime and corruption. Please show me one time in history it worked out positive results. We have a for profit court/jail system that gets more money when crime increases

      • I found Michael Huckeabe dead on Franklin Street in Ft Bragg. Dumped body, he died somewhere else. Police did not mention poison drugs in very bogus report. That was years ago. Case closed. Read history beyond school text books.

  2. Attention Biden voters and Jared Huffman lovers. (You know who you are) It all comes up from Mexico from chemicals brought in from China. Your party has opened up the border to unrestricted death.

    • Its true that China is largely supplying the precursor chemicals that are then being shipped to Mexico and cooked into a final product that is then making it’s way into America. However, the claim that our border is suddenly ‘open’ to this, or that a particular party is responsible singly for the problem, ignores the real issues here.

      The fundamental problem, is one of demand. If there wasn’t scads of money to be made from the drug trade, the cartels wouldn’t be in it. But because of the money, they are willing to take any and all risks, to the extreme, to manufacture the product and deliver to their american customers. We do not have weak borders or immigration policies; We are dealing with a highly motivated and resourceful adversary that will use any and all means necessary. The government of mexico, due to many domestic factors which lead to corruption and being outgunned and overpowered by their cartels, is not equipped to make significant strides in controlling domestic production and export of these drugs. They are willing to accept help, and so far, we have fallen far short of delivering meaningful assistance. Furthermore, we have also failed our own people by not providing adequate support to addicts and others in either recovering from addition or to not get addicted in the first place. This may be too much of a mature idea, but if we got our own sh!t together first and reduced the demand for these drugs, the profits would go down and so would the deliveries. “Just say no” didn’t work, we lost the war on drugs hands down. We have wasted billions of dollars on it, when those very same dollars could have (and should) instead go to supporting communities and helping people get their lives together, not by punishing and incarcerating them, but by working with the problem and devising community based solutions. I don’t support giving welfare to drug addicts who do nothing and don’t contribute, but I would support creating resources that could be used to turn lives around for those who are motivated to do so. The solutions are not easy or cheap. Just think about it before popping off with this trumpian nonsense again, ok?

      • Mike apparently thinks fentanyl is like pot or meth or heroin, Fentanly usually cures that ASAP with RIP. But when a progressive is in doubt from all his psychobabble above they blame Trump.

        Mike played the Trump card-everybody has to SHUT UP?

      • Blah, Blah, Blah, etc. An the Libtard gives his profound opinion that ends with a Trump attack. It’s getting old, the facts speak for themselves. Life was way better under Trump!! Now, just deal with it.

  3. Why does our country not send it’s huge military to South America, to wipe out the cartels and make Mexico a safe land again, so Latinos can feel safe enough, to return home again, back to their families and the country they love. Businesses could thrive again and people could get good jobs there and not need to come to the U.S. for jobs and refuge from all the violence. We send our military all over the world. Why not to south america. More money is spent helping the mexican people here, than it would cost to wipe out the cartels and stay in the country, to keep it safe and peaceful for it’s people. They would have no more need to flee to the u.s. in droves. They would finally be able to stay home and many mexicans here, can safely return home again. They don’t WANT to come here, they HAVE to, to survive. It will never end, until the cartels and violence are eradicated forever, by our military. It’s our neighboring country. We must make it safe for it’s people. It’s because of the white man’s weakness, his addiction to everything, that enables the cartels to thrive. White people are weak and self pitying. Always desperate to self medicate. Always complaining. Always needing ‘therapy’. Can’t live without our wine, so the mexicans have to come here and grow it for us and suffer greatly while doing so. If the white man was completely drug and alcogol free, South America would be a beautiful, peaceful land, once again.

  4. Because drugs destroy those in poverty the CIA works with drug cartels to keep death flowing in our inner cities.

    • Culling the masses?… Draining the swamp?…of the less desirables, the non contributors, the welfare leaches…

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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