Shasta DA Promotes a Proposition Aimed at Addressing Theft, Fentanyl and Homelessness Issues

When a 13-year-old Redding middle school student died after swallowing a counterfeit pain reliever that was laced with fentanyl, authorities arrested the pill’s provider and sought a murder conviction.

Ultimately, 20-year-old Ryan Andrew Harrison, who was marketing the pills as Percosets through the Snapchat social media platform, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

For Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, whose office argued for a 13-year term, Harrison’s sentence does not fit such a horrific crime.

As she explained Tuesday during a lunch-hour talk before the League of Women Voters of the Redding Area, prosecutors dealing with cases like Harrison’s have been handcuffed since 2014 when California voters approved Prop 47, the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”

The act reduced most drug-possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Compounding the issue, Bridgett said California does not currently consider fentanyl—a cheap, powerful and extremely addictive narcotic—to be a “hard” drug like heroin.

Prop 47 also reduced the theft of goods valued at $950 or less to a misdemeanor, creating a damaging cycle where addicts commit petty thefts to support their drug habit while mostly avoiding, or ignoring, prosecution and forgoing any chance at meaningful treatment and/or rehabilitation. The result, Bridgett said, has been a drastic statewide increase in homelessness.

Bridgett and her DA cohorts in California believe a solution to some of these woes rests with voter approval of a proposition tentatively titled the “Homelessness, Drug Addiction and Theft Reduction Act.”

If it qualifies for the Nov. 5, 2024 ballot and is approved by a majority of voters, the Act would:

–Provide drug and mental health treatment for those addicted to hard drugs like fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and meth.

–Add fentanyl to existing laws prohibiting trafficking large quantities of drugs and possessing hard drugs while armed with a loaded firearm.

–Allow judges the discretion to sentenced drug dealers to state prison instead of county jail when convicted of trafficking in large quantities or while armed.

–Reinstate penalties for hard drug dealers whose trafficking kills or seriously injures a drug user.

–Increase penalties for people repeatedly convicted of theft.

–Add news laws to address the increasing problem of “smash and grab” thefts that result in significant losses and damage or committed by multiple thieves working together.

The as-yet untitled proposition seeks to reduce homelessness by targeting fentanyl dealers and thieves. Photo by Jon Lewis

“It’s driving business out of California,” Bridgett said of the plague of rampant property theft. While other attempts to “fix” Prop 47 shortcomings have failed, Bridgett said the proposed Act’s proponents are encouraged by recent statewide polling that indicates 81 percent approval. Several large retailers also are expressing support.

“We’re feeling we’re at a point where we might have something positive happen,” Bridgett said.

After her presentation, Bridgett fielded a number of questions on local current events. The bulk of the inquiries centered on actions taken by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors. Topics included potential Brown Act violations; a $50 million settlement with PG&E from the Zogg Fire; and a 30-year agreement with the Redding Rancheria to provide police and fire services when, or if, the Win-River Casino is relocated to land fronting Interstate 5.

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Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

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