Recent drug overdoses and the murder of a teenager by a former cop triggered a response from the police department at last Thursday’s public forum.

In unrelated cases, Rodrigo Floriano Mayen and Julia Zirangua, both 17, died of drug overdoses. According to police, Zirangua thought she was taking Percocet, which was later determined to be a counterfeit pill laced with fentanyl. Police said Mayen died of a drug overdose, but medical examiners are still working to determine the teen’s cause of death. 

Gwinnett County Medical Examiners told news outlet 11Alive that 18 teens have died from drug overdoses in the past two years. All but one of those deaths were a result of fentanyl. Concerned community members at the public forum wanted to know what law enforcement is doing to prevent future cases.

Narcotics commander Major Chris Marion said all overdoses are heavily investigated, and detectives work to determine where the victim obtained the drugs. Marion said Gwinnett police officers are equipped with resources that can help in the event of an overdose, and they are working with prosecutors to press charges on convicted drug dealers.

“The department several years ago issued Narcan, a life-saving drug when overdoses occur to every officer,” he said. “We’re working closely with the district attorney’s office to bring felony murder charges against the drug dealers when we’re able to identify them.” 

Hispanic teens make up an alarming number of recent fentanyl overdoses in the county. Of the 18 deaths, 11 of them were Hispanics. 

Protestors with The Hispanic United Alliance met multiple times in February to bring awareness to the recent tragedies, asking law enforcement to take accountability.

The death of Susana Morales, at the hands of former Doraville police officer Miles Bryant, raised questions about how police investigate missing teen cases and why teens are labeled as runaways.

According to Criminal Investigations Commander Major Charles Wilkerson, being reported as a runaway does not mean the crime is not investigated. 

“Just because it’s a runaway, we automatically start following the leads that we can follow immediately,” he said. “If any of those leads create a different type of case, then we investigate that appropriately.” 

Gwinnett Police Chief J.D. McClure said he wants Hispanics to feel comfortable reporting crimes, regardless of immigration status. In a statement he gave at the community meeting, McClure said it’s not their job to deport people. 

“The Gwinnett County Police Department does not enforce immigration laws,” he said. “Victims of a crime should never be afraid to come forward.”

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