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Stalled federal funds impacting Milwaukee County’s fight against fatal ODs: ‘We need additional resources’

MILWAUKEE -- Eileen McLeod-Fritz's son Terry's death was one of 251 fatal drug overdoses in 2014. That number climbed to 401 in 2017. In Milwaukee County, it’s not just the growing number of overdose deaths impacting the fight against drugs. A chunk of federal funds that have been withheld for almost two years is also making an impact.

McLeod-Fritz said she sensed something was wrong with her son.

“He told us he was scared and that he was addicted to heroin. I thought he was kidding, and then I looked at his face and knew he wasn’t," she said.

Eileen McLeod-Fritz

Her son went to rehab and thought he was better, but his battle ended in heartache.

“We lost him Oct. 1, 2014 and the world changed,” said McLeod-Fritz.

Terry Fritz

Terry Fritz, 26, died with a syringe in his lap near 68th and Sheridan in Milwaukee. His family said they have an idea who gave him that lethal dose of heroin, but charges have never been filed in his death.

“I don’t want to say I’ve given up hope, because I haven’t, but every year that passes makes me realize it’s going to be harder and harder," said Jason Fritz, Terry's brother.

Terry Fritz

Prosecuting Len Bias cases

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm is going after those deadly dealers in what are called Len Bias cases, charging dealers with "reckless homicide." The prosecution must prove that an individual distributed a drug that caused a death.

“This is a problem that the country has never seen before,” said Chisholm.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm

Chisholm said another problem he's never seen before is a federal funding issue that has hurt his office’s effort to prosecute drug overdose deaths. Right now, Milwaukee County has one prosecutor handling Len Bias cases. In 2017, of the 401 drug overdose deaths, 24 were prosecuted.

“My prediction is that we haven’t crested yet. We still have a tough time ahead of us, and that’s why we need additional resources to be able to deal with it," said Chisholm.

So far, the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office has lost six positions and anticipates losing another four before  year’s end if the money doesn’t arrive quickly.

“It’s not that the money isn’t there. It’s just not being released," said Chisholm.

The search for money

It began in April 2017, when the DOJ questioned several cities, including Milwaukee, about compliance with certain portions of the federal immigration policy.

The county was required to provide documentation to prove compliance, otherwise, prized federal funds known as "JAG money" could be stripped away. Non-compliant cities were commonly referred to as “sanctuary cities.”

Not long after, the DOJ responded to Milwaukee County with a notice saying that it was in compliance with immigration policy elements.

In the meantime, Chicago took its battle to court, after it received notice that it wasn’t in compliance with certain policy elements. City of Chicago v. Sessions made its way to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In April of 2018, it was decided the federal government did not have the authority to withhold such funding.

Since then, Milwaukee County has not seen a dime of the federal funding, but a new development came within days of FOX6's story airing, when Milwaukee County leaders received word the county was listed as a recipient of the money. Chisholm said Friday, July 20 he anticipates the 2017 money, which is just under $1 million, will become available in late August, after almost two years of waiting.

“I can say that for the last 30 years JAG/Byrne has been a reliable, non-controversial and non-partisan way to assist local public safety officials. I have never seen the process unfold with such uncertainty before," said Chisholm.

‘They’re functioning at 1990 staffing levels’

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said DA's offices are swamped because of the volume of cases and because the number of employees hasn’t kept up with that volume.

“When you try to take the same number of staff that you had almost 30 years ago and have them function in today’s environment, they’re going to get overwhelmed and they are,” said Schimel.

When asked if one prosecutor was enough in fighting drug overdose death cases in Milwaukee County, Schimel said no, adding, “those cases are as time consuming as any prosecutor will work on.”

Despite Milwaukee County receiving word of compliance, Schimel said the stalled federal funding was not his issue to take up.

“That’s a battle between Milwaukee and the federal government,” said Schimel.

One family’s battle: ‘A drug dealer is a murderer’

Terry Fritz’s family thinks they know who gave him that lethal dose of heroin, but it’s never been proven in court. FOX6 obtained all the police records surrounding Fritz’s death.

Terry Fritz

The report listed a suspect, who at the time was in custody, awaiting a homicide trial in November of 2015. While FOX6 will not name the suspect because he has not been charged in this case, he was found guilty of first degree reckless homicide in the other case and sentenced.

Records obtained showed Fritz’s final text messages with the suspect the day he died. The two texted about meeting up sometime around 2:24 a.m. Fritz then texted the suspect, saying he had just met with another person: "Not sure who I met with but I think I scared him. lol”

Suspect: “Lol yeah u was actin police 'n (expletive)."

Fritz: “Yeah. I was trying to be friendly. I asked his name and he said cash. If he’s up late he will be seeing a lot of me. I just like to know who I'm doing business with. Didn’t mean to freak him out.”

Fritz: “Anonymity is fine."

Suspect: “Yeah I’m up all night jus call me."

Fritz responded: “For sure. And it’s some flame. :D”

At 2:44, the last text was from the suspect: “OK."

At 4:54 a.m., call logs showed an incoming call from “Home” that went unanswered.

Terry Fritz and family

MPD records show the detective who investigated Fritz’s case retired from the police department. In July 2015, Fritz’s case was turned over to Patricia Daughterty, who specialized in overdose deaths.

The report said: “The amount of information was substantial and she requested some additional time to go through the reports to consider charges.”

As of July 2018, no charges have been filed, but that won’t stop the Fritz family from working to help others battling addiction. Each year, they host the Terry Fritz Memorial to benefit Stop Heroin Now and the CJ Lomas Recovery Foundation. Each year since 2014, the family has raised thousands of dollars in the fight against drugs

While they may not know why their loved one’s case has never been prosecuted, they know one thing is for certain -- they won’t stop trying to save more lives.

“If we can help somebody not feel the way we feel, it’s all worth it. If we help one person, it’s all worth it to me," said Eileen McLeod-Fritz.