The following three people were arrested and charged in New Jersey with strict liability for a drug-induced death, a first-degree charge that carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison:
Byrd was arrested on June 2. Potts and Ferguson were arrested early last evening at the home where both of them live. The three defendants were charged in connection with the death of Kean Cabral, 25, of Warwick, N.Y. Cabral was found dead inside his home on the morning of April 3, 2016 as a result of a heroin overdose.
The arrests stem from a joint investigation conducted with the New York Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, the Warwick (N.Y.) Police Department and the Passaic County (N.J.) Sheriff’s Office. The New York Attorney General’s Office had enlisted the aid of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office in a prior case as a result of their existing partnership on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF), a task force of state attorneys general that is promoting collaboration to fight heroin trafficking. Through task force discussions, the New York prosecutors were aware of New Jersey’s strict liability statute and the potential to prosecute a drug dealer for a first-degree crime based on an overdose death. In November, the New Jersey and New York Attorneys General announced the arrest of an alleged Paterson drug dealer, Shawn Flemmings, in the death of Stephen Ference in Warwick last year. The charges against Flemmings are pending.
“We’ll continue to work collaboratively with our law enforcement partners in New York and elsewhere to enforce New Jersey’s strict liability law to hold drug dealers accountable for the effects of the deadly narcotics they sell,” said Acting New Jersey Attorney General Porrino. “Drug dealers who choose to profit by fueling the epidemic of opiate addiction will pay the price when that addiction turns deadly, as it does so often.”
“Heroin trafficking doesn’t stop at state borders, so law enforcement agencies must collaborate across state lines to protect their communities from the scourge of addiction,” New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “These arrests are a clear example of how the sharing of resources among states can produce stronger cases against interstate heroin traffickers. My office will continue to partner with Attorneys General and law enforcement agencies up and down the Northeast to root out dealers and traffickers that bring dangerous narcotics across state lines. Our message is simple: If you deal death in our communities, we will come after you with the full force of the law.”
“We issued a directive to police in New Jersey to investigate all overdose deaths with a view to potentially charging the dealers responsible under our strict liability law,” said Director Elie Honig of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. “We’re encouraged that, not only are New Jersey police responding, but our task force partners in New York are bringing us cases such as this one. We are all fully engaged when it comes to combating the epidemic of heroin abuse in our states.”
Warwick police officers initiated the investigation on April 3 when they responded to Cabral’s home at approximately 8 a.m. on an emergency call after he was found unresponsive. Cabral was found slumped over the end of a bed in his bedroom. Officers found a syringe at the scene, along with eight glassine envelopes of suspected heroin stamped “Trap Queen” in red ink, and nine empty glassine envelopes with the same stamp. Cabral was pronounced dead at the scene. The Orange County (N.Y.) Medical Examiner determined that Cabral died of a heroin overdose.
Through their initial investigation, the Warwick Police developed information that Potts and Ferguson allegedly sold Cabral the heroin that caused his death, and they had been traveling to Paterson to purchase heroin. The Warwick Police and the New York Attorney General’s Office – who had worked with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office on the prior multi-state strict liability case – enlisted those New Jersey partners again to assist in the investigation. Following an alert from the Warwick Police, detectives from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office set up surveillance in Paterson on April 6 and allegedly observed Potts and Ferguson obtaining heroin in a hand-to-hand drug transaction on East 34th Street. The detectives stopped the couple’s vehicle, and Potts and Ferguson were arrested after Ferguson voluntarily turned over approximately 50 glassine envelopes of suspected heroin stamped “Trap Queen” in red ink. Further investigation revealed that Potts and Ferguson allegedly sold multiple glassine envelopes of heroin stamped “Trap Queen” to Cabral on both April 1 and April 2, immediately prior to his death, and that they allegedly had obtained the heroin in Paterson from Byrd.
In addition to the first-degree charge of strict liability for drug-induced death, Byrd, Potts and Ferguson face third-degree charges of distribution of heroin and conspiracy to distribute heroin. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Potts and Ferguson are being held in jail in Orange County, N.Y., pending extradition to New Jersey. Byrd is being held in the Passaic County Jail with bail set at $150,000.
Acting New Jersey Attorney General Porrino and New York Attorney General Schneiderman commended all of the attorneys, officers, investigators and detectives who investigated the case for the Warwick Police Department, New York Attorney General’s Office, New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and Passaic County Sheriff’s Office.
As part of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987, New Jersey enacted a provision making it a first-degree crime to unlawfully distribute a controlled dangerous substance that results in death. The statute prescribes strict liability, and it is no defense that the drug user contributed to his or her own death by voluntarily ingesting the substance that caused death. The statute applies to every person along the drug distribution chain, not just the dealer who may have personally interacted with the decedent.
The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force operates under the auspices of the National Association of Attorneys General. The primary goal of the task force is collaboration, coordination and information-sharing between the attorneys general and other law enforcement agencies to combat organized narcotics enterprises that are supplying people with heroin.