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INDIANAPOLIS — Two suspects were arrested and charged in connection to the death of a Vigo County woman who died of an overdose earlier this year.

Police said Kristin Carrington, 24, of Greencastle, and Aaron Gates, 25, of Paris, Illinois were taken into custody in Vigo County, where they are currently being held, for their alleged role in the February 9 overdose death of 20-year-old Shauna Patterson from Terre Haute.

The two are each charged in Vigo County with dealing in a controlled substance resulting in death, along with several other drug-related charges.

“This is the compilation of a very complicated and time-consuming investigation,” said Deputy Chief Kendale Adams with IMPD’s Criminal Investigations division.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said the investigation began when officers were called to 8554 Red Oak Court on the south side for a death investigation.

According to police, when the Marion County Coroner’s Office (MCCO) arrived on scene, Patterson was found with a clear knotted plastic bag on her, which contained a suspected drug. Officials later learned the bag contained the same combination of drugs found in her body.

Officials confirm toxicology reports showed Patterson’s cause of death was determined to be acute combined hydroxyzine, fentanyl, and flualprazolam toxicity, meaning she ingested drugs laced with fentanyl.

“The Marion County Coroner’s Office is committed to conducting thorough death investigations, and working hand in hand with our local, state and federal criminal justice partners to rid our communities of drug dealers causing death to hundreds of men and women across the county and state,” said Chief Deputy Coroner Alfrena McGinty.

IMPD Detective Chris Smith, an assigned Task Force Officer with the FBI Safe Streets Gang Task Force, launched an investigation into Patterson’s death, working alongside detectives with the task force and DEA Evansville Resident Office to analyze evidence, ultimately leading to the arrests of both suspects, police said.

“They were able to determine this by evidence, she bought the drugs from the alleged suspects in this case, in Vigo County, and passed away here in Indianapolis,” said Adams.

Although the investigation into Patterson’s death began in Indianapolis and was traced back to Vigo County where she allegedly bought the drugs, police said the coroner’s office needed to conduct a forensic autopsy in Marion County, where her death happened, in order to eventually pursue charges.

“In order to get there, we had to get the Marion County Coroner’s Office, who is an important partner in this Overdose Response Team that we have, they had to actually go retrieve her body and then perform a criminal autopsy here in Marion County,” said Adams.

“These are very complicated cases. We have over 900 overdose deaths in Marion County alone and in order to successfully prosecute someone at the state level and even the federal level, you’ll need a criminal autopsy,” said Adams. “The most important element in these cases is deceased; the victim, the person who may have been able to provide us information in who dealt them these drugs.”

Court documents detail the investigation that followed Patterson’s death, including how digital data, from text messages to Snapchats, and Cash App transactions, played a role in linking the suspects to the crime.

“We have to use technology; you know, a lot of different evidence to try to put these cases together,” Adams explained. “They take a very long time to develop and this case is no different.”

According to police, the messages exchanged between the suspects and victim were sent in the days leading up to, and the hours before her death. It was advances in digital forensics that helped authorities determine all three were together during the sale in Vigo County, where the suspects were both living at the time.

After presenting the facts of the case to the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office, IMPD said their office was able to file charges against the two suspects.

“Individuals like Ms. Carrington and Mr. Gates, who allegedly dealt a controlled substance that contained poisonous and lethal quantities of fentanyl must be held accountable for their actions. During the course of the investigation, DEA along with our law enforcement partners, worked tirelessly to identify these individuals that were distributing this debilitating, destructive and lethal drug on our streets,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Michael Gannon.

“The careless actions of Ms. Carrington and Mr. Gates preyed on the vulnerabilities of a person struggling with addiction, which resulted in her death. DEA remains committed to working hand in hand with our state, local and federal partners in order to keep our communities safe. DEA commends the outstanding work by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, FBI- Safes Streets Task Force, and the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office,” Gannon said.

In March of last year, IMPD, in partnership with federal and local law enforcement partners, including the MCCO, launched the revamped Overdose Response Team, responsible for investigating and reviewing cases likely to be prosecuted under state or federal law.

“We’ve put together this team because we recognize that there is a problem in our community. We are devoting our resources to that effort that has resulted in these four cases that we now have,” said Adams. “This problem isn’t decreasing, this problem is only increasing, and that’s why we’ve devoted some resources to it to try to hold those accountable that may be selling these mixtures of narcotics that are causing death.”

“These things take time and we hope to be at more than four. We have at least 12 that are in the investigative stage right now and I look forward to additional arrests that may come from additional cases,” Adams added.

He also hopes to see more intervention and prevention before it gets to a point where people are reacting after a person’s death.

“I think the important thing is that families get help before we are at a point where in a crisis a person has died,” Adams said.

Overdose death prosecutions in Indiana under 2018 law

In 2018, Indiana lawmakers made dealing drugs resulting in death a crime punishable by up to 40 years. Since that law passed, IMPD said its agency has presented four cases, which have resulted in charges.

Two of those cases charged were in Marion County, one at the federal level, and a fourth, this case, in Vigo County.

Still, investigators share that in order to bring forward a case and prove the crime occurred, it takes a lot more than hearsay.

“Every case is different. Every case is treated as though it will have these things that help detectives get to an eventual suspect, but unfortunately, not every case has that,” said Adams, who explained investigators have to be selective in what cases they are able to work with prosecutors to reach charges in.

“When I say selective, let me be clear, selective in a sense that we are likely to get charges,” said Adams. “That’s the only reason we have to be selective because not every case will have enough evidence that would get us to a successful prosecution of somewhat.”

Eric Hoffman, prosecuting attorney for Delaware County, said he understands that well. His office has been able to charge 12 individuals with the same crime, including three people who have been successfully convicted, while the other 9 await trial.

“These can be very complex investigations. They do take time,” Hoffman said.

In Delaware County, Hoffman said they treat each scene like it is a homicide when an overdose occurs.

‘When the police come to the scene, they process the evidence, they collect the evidence, they do forensic testing on the evidence, DNA, as well as toxicological testing,” Hoffman said. “We do in-depth dives into cellphone extractions and cellphone records; toxicological reports, expert testimony is key in these cases.”

Even still, the reality is, that not every case will result in prosecution, Hoffman said.

“Sometimes, in all honesty, we’re not able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt because we can’t prove or can’t conclusively prove who sold the drugs to a person,” said Hoffman.

It’s those key elements that Hoffman said need to come into play for a case to be able to hold up in court. He said their office takes these crimes very seriously and knows the impacts they have on families affected by losing a loved one.

“85-90 percent of all crimes somehow link to drugs. These drug dealers are really just a scrooge on our society. Contrary to the belief of some, even some that sit on the bench, drug dealing is in fact a violent crime. Anybody in law enforcement and prosecution, anybody in the streets, they know that. People get hurt, they get robbed, they get killed for the drugs and when they use the drugs, they get killed,” said Hoffman.

“Now you have a person that might be addicted to an opiate or what they believe is an opiate and they get something that’s laced with fentanyl, or pure fentanyl, and they immediately overdose and die so they’re duped so the drug dealer can get a quick buck. My chief deputy and I thought that was reprehensible and we were going to take that state statute and we were gonna use it,” Hoffman added.

Both Hoffman and Adams said it sends a message that these crimes won’t be tolerated and that there are local, state and federal officials working together to hold those accountable that are involved in dealing drugs, especially those contributing to deaths.

“In these situations people are dying, literally dying in the streets. I get sick and tired of the argument that this drug dealer was a user, too, and she was dealing. Well you know what, if that person was a user, too, then who better to know best than not to prey on people. They’re the ones that should know. They are preying upon people, preying upon the vulnerable in our society for money,” Hoffman said.

“I truly encourage other prosecutors in the state to look at this statute, look at how you investigate these kind of crimes, and give it a try because it’s important, it’s hard work, but in the end I think it’s well worth it,” said Hoffman. “At least from my perspective, what it does seem, is it does provide some sort of closure and perspective for the family. They can know what happened.”