Families, Tulsa DA Hope for More Prosecutions in Overdose Deaths

Aug 27, 2020

Diane Searle speaks to reporters on Thursday before reading the names of more than three dozen overdose victims. Families want the people who sold them drugs prosecuted.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Families who lost loved ones to opioid drug overdoses rallied outside the Tulsa County Courthouse on Thursday.

They want drug dealers to be prosecuted in more cases. Organizer Diane Searle read more than three dozen victims’ names, including her own daughter’s. Jillian Searle developed an opioid addiction after a dental procedure and died in 2018.

The man who sold Jillian drugs, Taylor Rogers, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last October and was sentenced to 40 years in Department of Corrections custody.

While drug dealers can be charged with murder in some cases, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said Oklahoma’s current drug laws keep him from prosecuting cases where murder can’t be proven, and he wants the legislature to act.

"It doesn’t need to be a turnstile down at the Department of Corrections because of this belief that, ‘Well, if you’re committing a murder, then we’re going to treat you as though you need to spend a lot of time down at the Department of Corrections, but if you’re involved with a drug crime, we need to get you out of there.’ Some of these folks are bad actors, and I want them to be looked at as the bad actors they are," Kunzweiler said.

Oklahoma voters reclassified simple possession from a felony to a misdemeanor in 2016 through State Question 780. Distribution and trafficking remain felonies if certain thresholds are met, as does manufacturing.

Kunzweiler also said more state funding is needed for mental health and addiction treatment services.

"We just don’t have the resources or the facilities to give them the ability to get off of these drugs," Kunzweiler said.

In 2018, 43% of Oklahoma overdose deaths involved opioids, whether prescription or in forms like fentanyl or heroin.