A Tunkhannock woman who survived a heroin overdose filed a federal lawsuit alleging she was wrongly charged with drug offenses despite the fact she was immune from prosecution.
Samantha Bailey, of 27 Morio Drive, claims Wyoming County District Attorney Jeffrey Mitchell and a police officer persisted in filing charges even though she qualified for immunity under the Drug Overdose Immunity Act — a state law that protects overdose victims and those who seek assistance for them from prosecution under certain circumstances.
The law is designed to encourage people to seek assistance for overdose victims. Several criteria must be met to qualify for immunity, including showing that law enforcement would not have become aware of the offense had they not sought treatment for the overdose.
According to the suit, Bailey’s mother, Kandi Madill, took her to Tyler Memorial Hospital on Jan. 1, 2016, for treatment of a heroin overdose. Madill gave hospital staff the heroin and paraphernalia Bailey used to ensure she was properly treated and that the items could be discarded properly.
Hospital staff called Tunkhannock Twp. police, and officer John Zdaniewicz responded and took the items.
After consulting Mitchell and Meshoppen Police Chief John Kreig, Zdaniewicz charged Bailey with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia on Jan. 12, 2016.
Bailey’s criminal attorney, David Lampman of Wilkes-Barre, contacted Mitchell in July 2016, and asked him to drop the charges, citing the Drug Overdose Immunity Act. Mitchell initially refused to do so, however.
It was not until Sept. 6, 2016, that Mitchell filed motion to dismiss the case, which was granted by Wyoming County Judge Russell Shurtleff.
The lawsuit, filed by Wilkes-Barre attorney Leonard Gryskewicz Jr., claims the charges caused Bailey to incur unnecessary legal expenses and infringed upon her freedom because she was required to be evaluated for drug addiction and undergo drug tests as a condition of her bail while she awaited trial.
The suit names as defendants Mitchell, Zdaniewicz, Kreig, former Tunkhannock Twp. Police Chief Stanley Ely, Tunkhannock Twp., Meshoppen Borough and Wyoming County.
When contacted, Mitchell said he had not seen the suit and could not comment. Attempts to reach Ely and Kreig were unsuccessful.