Investigators exploring federal charges in teens’ overdose deaths

Sgt. Jason Viger of the Sheriff's Department's Opioid Overdose Response Task Force discusses the status of several investigations Wednesday inside the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station. Perry Smith/The Signal
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Sheriff’s Department investigations into the fentanyl-overdose deaths of a 17-year-old girl and an 18-year-old man are both part of work that could wind up in federal court, investigators said this week. 

The cases of Alyssa Dies and Cameron Kouleyan were among the first incidents looked into by the Overdose Response Task Force, which was formed in July. 

The LASD task force has identified a suspect it believes to be linked to both deaths, according to Sgt. Jason Viger, who sat down to speak with The Signal on Wednesday about the task force not long after the case was “pitched” to the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Federal agencies typically do not comment on the specifics of active investigations, but a spokeswoman for the DEA confirmed the deaths are being looked into in a statement Friday. 

“The DEA Los Angeles Drug-Caused Deaths Task Force is actively assisting the LASD OD Task Force in pursuing federal charges in this case,” according to an email from DEA spokeswoman Nicole Nishida. 

Kouleyan died July 13 inside his family’s home on Matador Place in Santa Clarita, and Dies on July 23 after an overdose at Santa Clarita’s Central Park, according to the coroner’s office, with medical examiners attributing both deaths to fentanyl. 

The autopsy is a key element for investigators, as a medical examiner’s report is needed for detectives to establish the “corpus (delicti)” of a crime, Viger said, or proof that the cause of death was the drug overdose. 

The toxicology reports often take approximately six months to complete, based on the results of local cases. Kouleyan’s cause of death was determined on Sept. 29; Dies’ cause of death was determined Nov. 23, according to emails from Sarah Ardalani, spokeswoman for the county coroner’s office. 

Viger noted the decision to federally prosecute the local deaths would ultimately be at the discretion of federal prosecutors.  

“There was no decision made on behalf of the assistant U.S. attorney,” Viger said. “They’re going to take all the information, digest it and then process it before they get back to us.” 

Court records also indicate there were individuals present when Dies overdosed who were also present during the Bouquet Canyon Park overdoses last month, but Viger declined to comment on any specifics of the investigations at this point, noting no charges have been filed. 

Dies, a teen who lived in Canyon Country, reportedly battled addiction for several years and had previously sought treatment for addiction, according to statements in court records. She was at the mall with some friends watching a movie before splitting a single pill laced with fentanyl with another person, which led to her overdose during a Concerts in the Park last July. 

First responders administered two doses of Narcan around 9 p.m. before performing CPR on Dies. Her pulse returned and she was transported to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, but she was pronounced dead at 11:59 p.m. 

Kouleyan was found by family members. 

The deaths ultimately could lead to second-degree murder charges under federal statute, which requires that officials prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drugs were the cause of death and that the drugs were provided by the accused, according to Viger. 

He said there were a number of factors that led to the task force seeking federal prosecution for the fatal overdose deaths. 

Capt. Brandon Dean of the Sheriff Department’s Narcotics Bureau said Friday the task force is working to establish a relationship with the DA’s office, as the prosecution of fentanyl-overdose cases is relatively new.

“The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Overdose Response Task Force has had several meetings with the LA County District Attorney’s Office regarding overdose-death cases,” he said in a statement Friday, adding the office recently changed its point of contact for such prosecutions due to a retirement.

“The task force is now meeting with the LA County district attorney’s law enforcement liaison to work through these cases,” he added.

Viger said he presented a case involving a suspect in the death of a 27-year-old Lancaster man whose July 5 death was attributed to “mixed drug toxicity,” according to the coroner’s website. His autopsy report was completed about two weeks ago, so L.A. County charges could be forthcoming in that case. 

A federal charge offers much a stiffer penalty if someone is convicted, according to the statutes in Title 21 Section 841. Someone convicted of knowingly providing a Schedule I or II narcotic that is proven to result in death faces a minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. 

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