Wisconsin DA says regional drug prosecutors support local fight against drug epidemic
OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - October is National Substance Abuse Prevention month so Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul is highlighting Wisconsin’s efforts to fight the drug epidemic.
On Monday, Kaul released a report showing the impact two regional drug prosecutors have made in the state.
In 2017, Wisconsin Act 261, which is part of the HOPE (heroin, opioid, prevention and education) Legislation, created two regional assistant attorney general positions to help with big drug cases. One of the positions is based in Wausau and the other in Appleton.
Kaul said the additional regional drug prosecutors help local prosecutors with multI-jurisdictional and time-consuming drug cases.
“District attorneys are obviously immediately responsible for the people in their counties and they’ve got limited resources, so having somebody who can help bridge those jurisdictional divides and make sure that cases are being investigated ... helps streamline that process and can help DA’s conserve their resources for the communities where they work,” aid Kaul.
Outagamie District Attorney Melinda Tempelis said the additional help is greatly appreciated as the drug community changes, along with the case load.
“We have significant turnover and so a lot of our prosecutors are younger or newer don’t always have the expertise that the drug prosecutors have,” said Tempelis. “Three to five years ago, if we saw an ounce of meth that was a lot of meth and now we’re looking at half pounds or full pounds in the valley and it’s changing the dynamic of our drug problem that we have,” said Tempelis.
In 2019, data shows the regional drug prosecutors helped prosecute 68 cases, including 21 First Degree Reckless Homicide cases, also known as Len Bias cases.
“Those are reckless homicide cases where somebody’s involvement in the distribution of drugs, results in an overdose death and those are very difficult, challenging cases,” said Kaul.
Other cases that led to prosecutions include 31 methamphetamine distribution cases and 16 Heroin/Fentanyl Distribution cases.
“That is just one more tool in our tool belt to ensure that we are trying to address the significant drug issues in our community that is leading to significant addiction issues as well as overdoses and deaths,” said Tempelis.
Tempelis said while many of these cases would definitely be prosecuted, she said they would likely take longer to put big drug dealers behind bars without the help of the regional prosecutors. She said many district attorneys are short prosecutors and likely have a backlog.
“I think the bottom line is by being able to respond more quickly and collaboratively I think we are able to keep people safe and hopefully keep people alive,” said Tempelis.
Tempelis said it has also helped with investigations.
“We’ve also found that by involving the assistant attorney general in our area early on in the investigation, it’s really helping us make sure we’re training local law enforcement to do things, the best possible way,” said Tempelis. “It’s really improved the investigations that we’ve seen and allows us to work up the chain, not just to the low-level user but to really work through the chain to get to the dealers that are really bringing the quantity of drugs into our are.”
“DOJ’s regional drug prosecutors have helped law enforcement and district attorneys fight the drug epidemic. Because of their success, drug traffickers who have taken advantage of those struggling with substance-use disorder are behind bars,” said Kaul.
The regional drug prosecutor positions are slated to end in 2023. Kaul said he hopes to extend them when the time comes.
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