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N4T Investigators: Drug cases mounting for smaller communities

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Are drug dealers getting a get-out-jail free card?

In the last 8 months, the Pima County Jail has not been accepting anyone arrested on drug charges.

The reason? COVID-19.

The decision has made the jail among just a few in the country that has had "Zero" inmate to inmate COVID-19 contact.

However, the decision has been a huge concern for some police agencies.

In March, County Attorney Barbara LaWall sent out an email to police chiefs and the sheriff telling them temporary changes were being implemented to protect the health and safety of the public.

The purpose? To reduce the caseload for the county attorney's office and the courts due to COVID-19.

In a written statement to the News 4 Tucson's Investigators, the chief deputy wrote:

" … The county attorney specifically noted that issuing would continue for cases in which there is probable cause that suspects possessing drugs or paraphernalia also have committed an additional felony crime along with possession, such as burglary plus narcotic possession, for example. Amelia Cramer"

But here it is eight months later. The caseload has been reduced at the county attorney's office, but the drug cases keep piling up.

It's estimated there are over 100 cases in Oro Valley and Marana and that's a huge concern for the police chiefs there.

"Now, we are seeing repeat offenders, we are also seeing an uptick in some of our numbers. But it's not only possession of narcotics it's for sale," said Oro Valley Police Chief Kara Riley.

She added her major concern is the drugs being sold by the dealers are getting out into the community and our children.

In Marana, Terry Rozema said, "Anytime you have people selling drugs using drugs you have the potential for problems."

When this interview was conducted, he was the Marana police chief. He recently was named interim Town Manager.

While Marana police are not arresting people on drug charges, they are doing what's called a long-form - when they find people using or selling drugs.

"You take the narcotics from them, obviously; you document the case and then you follow up with the county attorney's at a later date to issue the case and formally charge the people," Rozema said.

The question is when will the county attorney's office be taking the cases?

Rozema said they approached them about the possibility of getting some of these cases issued.

"In order to stem some of the flow of the narcotics in the area and also to assign some consequences to some people for their actions," he said.

In a written statement the chief deputy wrote:

"The county attorney is in the process of evaluating and assessing her deputies' caseloads, the current jail population relative to space for quarantine within the jail, and other relevant factors. The county attorney anticipates making a decision with respect to issuing non-arrest personal possession narcotics cases within the next couple of weeks. At such time as she makes her decision, the county attorney will inform the police chiefs and sheriff in writing."

Amelia Crame

The News 4 Tucson Investigators received that email on Oct. 8.

We've checked with both Oro Valley and Marana police and they said they've not received anything from the county attorney's office.

Sources tell News 4 Tucson that the issue will likely now be handled by the newly elected county attorney.

We will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest as soon as we know it.

If you have a story you'd like for us to investigate, call us at 520-884-4444 or email us at investigators@kvoa.com.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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