A Millersville man has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after police and prosecutors say he sold a 16-year-old a fatal dose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
An Anne Arundel County grand jury indicted Jason Patton Baker, 45, on eight charges related to the Jan. 19 overdose death of Josiah Christopher Klaes, of Glen Burnie.
The March 2 indictment is linked to a conversation between the two that police said was about Klaes buying heroin and marijuana the day before his death. Klaes is the youngest fatal overdose victim in the county since police began tracking the drug deaths in 2014.
In charging documents, police wrote that they responded to Klaes’ home in Glen Burnie on Jan. 19 at 7:54 p.m. for a report of a cardiac arrest. Officers and Anne Arundel County Fire Department paramedics found Klaes unresponsive. He was declared dead at 8:03 p.m.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Klaes died from a fentanyl overdose. The synthetic opioid is considered magnitudes stronger than heroin, and law enforcement agencies say they’re seeing it mixed with heroin and cocaine at increasing rates due to its low cost to manufacture.
A text message conversation described in charging documents as between Klaes and “baker,” who police say witnesses identified as Jason Baker, shows the two discussing the purchase of “pills” and marijuana. Police wrote that “pills” is sometimes used as slang for vials of heroin.
After the two finished the transaction, Klaes seemed to acknowledge the potency of the drugs, texting “you weren’t kidding these are strong as … ,” according to police documents. A 15-year-old witness told officers he saw Klaes regularly buy heroin and marijuana from Baker.
Police also wrote that Baker was aware of Klaes’ age, as they said Klaes told Baker on Jan. 1 his age, height and weight. Knowing someone’s height and weight can be relevant for drug potency and dosage.
As of Tuesday, the county had only seen two juveniles overdose in 2018. They have been an infrequent occurrence, according to county police statistics.
Lt. Ryan Frashure, a police spokesman, said Klaes’ death is the first of its kind in Anne Arundel County since police began keeping statistics of overdose deaths in 2014, as no other juvenile had ever died as a result of an overdose.
The fatal nature of opioids, with law enforcement and health officials pointing to fentanyl as the catalyst, continues to plague the county.
As of Tuesday, 85 people have died due to drug overdoses, the most during that time period since police began taking statistics in 2014. This is despite the total number of overdoses showing a slight decrease compared to 2017, which set a record for the most in one year.
The involuntary manslaughter charge against an alleged drug dealer also represents a previous decision by State’s Attorney Wes Adams to prosecute such cases as homicides.
Initially touted by Adams and police as a potential deterrent, he has said the office would re-evaluate pursuing the charge following an April appeals case that raised serious questions about prosecutors’ ability to prove causation in an overdose victim’s death.
As of Friday, of the at least six cases where police linked a fatal opioid overdose to an alleged dealer since the department created a special investigative unit in July devoted to such cases, only two have seen grand juries return indictments including involuntary manslaughter charges.
In addition to Baker, Gabrielle DelValle, 37, of Baltimore County, faces manslaughter charges as police say he sold a fatal dose of fentanyl to a Pasadena man in January of last year.
Klaes’ father said he agreed with the charge, saying, “The man (was) selling drugs to a teenage boy.”
It will look to serve a key difference in the upcoming primary election for the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office, as the two Republicans in the race — the incumbent Adams and challenger Kathy Rogers, who he fired on his first day in office — have traded barbs over Adams’ prosecutorial strategies.
While Adams is still pursuing homicide charges against Baker and DelValle, Rogers said his desire to re-evaluate the strategy based on the appeals court ruling is misguided. She said she would go farther if elected in November and pursue second-degree murder charges, meaning alleged dealers would face up to 40 years in prison on that charge alone if convicted.
The tactic has also seen a considerable amount of criticism, as some say it’s reflective of an ideology adopted during the “War on Drugs” in the 1980s that led to more arrests, but no evidence of effective deterrence. A study from the Drug Policy Alliance found that while other states had also increased their use of homicide charges in drug distribution cases in recent years, it had no effect on the rate of overdoses in those areas.
Public defender Elizabeth Connell, who’s representing Baker, said Adams’ prosecutions of such cases are “short-sighted” and “unwarranted.” She added that homicide charges “do not take into account that users will continue to find a way to get high. It’s like prosecuting the victims as well.”
She also referenced the appeals case and Adams’ stated desire to review similar cases, saying she believes the remaining cases also should be dismissed. She declined to comment further on Baker’s case.
A spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the case.