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San Francisco drug dealers could face murder charges for overdose deaths

Police officers standing in a circle between two cars.
San Francisco Police Department officers meet along Seventh Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

San Francisco drug dealers could face charges for overdose-linked deaths next year, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mayor London Breed and law enforcement officials announced Friday.

In the latest crackdown on San Francisco's drug crisis, a new task force will investigate opioid-linked deaths and poisonings with similar resources and investigative tactics used for homicide cases.

In response to opioid deaths, the task force will document fatal overdoses and gather relevant evidence and intelligence to map out the supply of fentanyl from large crime syndicates—all while prosecuting drug dealers.

A police car shines its lights next to a crowd of people.
A San Francisco Police Department vehicle slowly cruises past people congregating near the intersection of Seventh and Market in Downtown San Francisco on Oct. 16. The intersection is known for its open-air drug trade. | Source: Jesse Rogola/The Standard

San Francisco launched a multiagency crackdown on drug dealing in April, when Newsom ordered the National Guard and California Highway Patrol to assist city police.

Newsom also announced plans to double the number of CHP officers in San Francisco Tenderloin in June.

READ MORE: 24 Hours at San Francisco’s Worst Drug Corner: Why the City Struggles To Control Seventh and Market

"The opioid crisis has claimed too many, and fentanyl traffickers must be held accountable, including, as appropriate, for murder," Newsom said. "This task force is fighting for those affected by this crisis—for victims and loved ones who deserve peace. Working together, we will continue providing treatment and resources to help those struggling with substance use—and secure justice for families who have lost loved ones.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at Nido's Backyard Mexican Restaurant in Oakland in 2022. | Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“Fentanyl is deadlier than any drug we've ever seen on our streets,” Breed said. “We must treat the trafficking and sale of fentanyl more severely, and people must be put on notice that pushing this drug could lead to homicide charges."

Murder charges can be filed if an investigation identifies the dealer who sold the drugs that led to an overdose death, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in a Friday press release.

READ MORE: 3 People Die of Drug Overdoses Every Week in San Francisco Supportive Housing

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, center, speaks at a Oct. 26 press conference. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

“Drug dealers and traffickers have caused the death of far too many individuals in our community, and this new tool will give us a better chance to hold them accountable for the true dangerousness of their conduct,” Jenkins said.

The task force is expected to launch in early 2024, with CHP, San Francisco police, the DA's Office and CalGuard all taking part. Officials shared no details about the task force's size or cost on Friday.

“We refuse to stand idly by as fentanyl dealers continue to profit from the tragic deaths they are causing in our city,” said San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott.

Since the state began its increased law enforcement efforts in San Francisco on May 1, 2023, CHP has seized 18.5 kilos of fentanyl and made 364 felony and misdemeanor arrests in the Tenderloin and the surrounding area, officials said.

The operation builds on the Governor’s Master Plan for Tackling the Fentanyl and Opioid Crisis, which includes an expansion of CalGuard-supported operations, which led to a 594% increase in seized fentanyl in 2022 and $1 billion in statewide funding to go after dealers and provide treatment programs, officials said.