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'We need communication': Families impacted by fentanyl crisis make plea to law enforcement

 Families impacted by fentanyl crisis make plea to law enforcement
Posted at 10:31 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 00:47:25-04

DENVER — Fentanyl continues to abruptly upend the lives of countless Coloradans. Those who've witnessed it firsthand are pleading for the state to do better.

On Thursday, a two-day, first-of-its-kind summit focused on finding solutions to the state's fentanyl crisis convened in downtown Denver.

Law enforcement, district attorneys and elected leaders from across the state are welcome to attend. Those who've lost loved ones to fentanyl were also invited to speak on a panel during the summit. However, the summit is closed to the press and public.

The event comes on the heels of Colorado State Patrol's announcement that this year, fentanyl seizures in the state have already surpassed those of 2021.

"I mean, for me, this is probably the worst pain I've ever felt in my life," said Chelsea Ramirez. "My best friend, the person that I woke up to every morning, shared every meal with, had four children with ... I will never see again."

Ramirez's husband, Igancio "Nacho" Ramirez, was killed by a counterfeit pill laced with fentanyl in August 2021. The father of four thought he was taking Oxycodone to help his back pain.

Denver7 was the first to speak with Chelsea Ramirez as she made a public plea for prosecution in her husband's case.

"Our neighbor's [camera] had a direct view and saw everything," she said during an April interview with Denver7. "We have given video footage, we have given messages. [The police] have taken copies of my husband's phone. We have given them everything, and we've done everything but walk this person into the police station."

Now, Ramirez is taking her plea to the state's broader law enforcement community.

"We need communication. We need more compassion when it comes to how law enforcement speaks to us," she said. "I would not wish this on my worst enemy — having to relive this pain over and over, not just every single day but in every moment of every day."

Ramirez knows she's not alone in her grief. Coco Peterson was another speaker during the panel. Peterson's sister, Kristina Kaufmann, died of a fentanyl poisoning in 2019 at 37 years old.

Like Nacho Ramirez, Peterson says her sister had no idea she was ingesting fentanyl.

"She was in the financial world working for an well-known company, closing million dollar deals just a week or two before she died," Peterson said. "She loved her daughter, they had a great relationship. She had a family that cared about her. This was just so unexpected and out of the blue. She had taken a pill that she thought was Oxycodone and it ended up being fentanyl."

Neither Peterson or Ramirez have seen prosecution in their loved one's cases.

Peterson acknowledges time is no longer on her side when it comes to the scale of justice.

"It wasn't until I testified in the House and in the Senate [for House Bill 22-1326] that District Attorney John Kellner actually reached back out to me and said, "I wasn't there at that time, but I am now, and it looks like this should have been investigated,"" she said.

Peterson hopes law enforcement, district attorneys and elected officials will prioritize accountability for other families.

"It's good to have someone communicating with you, and I think that's all we ask when we lose someone is to have a compassionate person advocating for us," she said.

In the case of Nacho Ramirez, Greeley detectives were tasked with the investigation. Denver7 reached out to both the Greeley Police Department and the Weld County District Attorney's Office Thursday for an update in the case. Neither agency provided information by the time of publication.

"I had reached out to our investigator again, and unfortunately, he had told me that the case is at the DA’s Office and that a third party was needing to get involved," Ramirez said. "And from what I know, from the Weld County District Attorney's Office, they don't have it either. So we're currently at a standstill."

Both Ramirez and Peterson expressed gratitude for 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason, who serves Adams and Broomfield counties. Mason moderated the panel between family members and law enforcement.

Back in February, in Mason's district, five people were found dead in a single apartment from suspected fentanyl poisonings.

"I was out on scene that night. I saw the bodies lying in that apartment," Mason said. "It's an image I will never forget."

"These family members have gone through hell, and their emotional journey is one that was impacted by the criminal justice system and by how they were treated in the criminal justice system. We need to learn the lessons from them so that we can all do better going forward."

According to information provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), 905 Coloradans died in 2021 after ingesting fentanyl — a 68% increase from the year prior.

Fentanyl poisonings through the years in Colorado