Dunwoody Police have arrested and charged an alleged drug dealer with felony murder in the death of a 22-year-old man who police say overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl earlier this year at an apartment complex across from City Hall.
It is the first known prosecution of an alleged drug dealer for murder in Dunwoody and DeKalb County, officials say, as law enforcement searches for ways to crack down on the opioid epidemic gripping the country and metro Atlanta.
The Georgia Supreme Court is currently considering a Fulton County case in which a man was charged with felony murder after injecting heroin into a victim who died of an overdose. Defense attorneys say the felony murder charge threatens the 911 amnesty law that grants immunity to drug users who try to help an overdose victim.
Antoin Thornton, 28, was arrested May 9 and charged with felony murder and trafficking heroin after Dunwoody officers and the North Metro and DeKalb County SWAT teams executed search warrants at two DeKalb County locations. Also arrested was Daja Monee Shaw, 30, who is charged with drug trafficking, tampering with evidence and possession of marijuana.
At a May 13 press conference at Dunwoody City Hall, DeKalb County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Lance Cross said this was the first prosecution of a suspected drug dealer with felony murder in the county. This is the first time Dunwoody Police have charged an alleged drug dealer with felony murder in connection with an overdose death, added Chief Billy Grogan.
State Attorney General Chris Carr, a Dunwoody resident, attended the press conference and said he was only aware of this case and one in Fulton County as examples of an alleged drug dealer being charged with murder in the state.
“We hope this sends a clear message to drug dealers that if you sell drugs in our community, and those drugs lead to someone’s death, you will be held accountable,” Grogan said.
Georgia law states felony murder occurs when a person, during the commission of a felony, such as selling drugs, causes the death of another person, regardless of malice. Police say Thornton sold the 22-year-old heroin laced with the deadly fentanyl that caused his death. Grogan declined to comment on how police were able to prove the drugs Thornton allegedly sold to the victim caused his death.
Cross said the DeKalb County DA’s office is taking a “multi-pronged” approach to tackling the heroin epidemic that exists nationwide. The approach includes prosecuting alleged drug dealers for murder if an investigation can prove drugs the dealer sold resulted in someone’s death. For drug addicts, the DA’s office advocates a “restorative and rehabilitative” approach to justice, he said.
Cross added the DA’s office was not targeting addicts or drug dealers who sell to support their own drug habit, but rather non-users who sell drugs only to make a profit. He said Thornton was a non-user.
Thornton is being represented by a DeKalb County public defender, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The incident occurred March 18 when Dunwoody Police responded to a drug overdose call at 4867 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, at the Jefferson at Perimeter apartments located across the street from Dunwoody City Hall. The 22-year-old victim was in cardiac arrest and police officers and medics with the DeKalb Fire Rescue Department unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.
Grogan said the victim had been in drug rehab when he overdosed. He said the family of the victim was also happy to hear of the arrest of the alleged drug dealer and that he was being charged with felony murder.
In the last six years, Dunwoody Police have responded to more than 50 overdose incidents. Of those, 16 resulted in death, according to Sgt. Robert Parsons, police spokesperson. Dunwoody officers have used Naloxone, the life-saving drug for opioid overdoses, more than 20 times since 2015 when the department first acquired the drug. He said most of the overdoses in Dunwoody involve opioids, including heroin, fentanyl and prescription pills.