Deirdre Daly, U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, will leave the 25th floor of her office overlooking the New Haven Green for the last time Friday knowing she made a difference in the war against drugs and violence.
Daly was among a handful of President Barack Obama appointees allowed to stay on for a period of time after President Donald Trump demanded they resign after taking office. The postponement allowed Daly to complete 20 years of service with the Justice Department, making her eligible for retirement benefits.
The Fairfield resident sat down with the Connecticut Law Tribune to discussed the opioid epidemic, her legacy and future plans before leaving her office. Answers are edited for length and clarity.
Q: The opioid crisis has been a major focus of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut during your four and a half years here. How has the office addressed the epidemic.
A: The Connecticut medical examiner anticipates 1,700 people will die in the state this year from opioids or other overdoses. Many of those people are between the ages of 18 and 26. The deaths are primarily caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin.
We reached out to police departments and states attorneys and asked them to treat overdose scenes as crime scenes rather than death scenes. Since that time, beginning in 2013, we have prosecuted 90 cases and investigated about 150.
By the end of this year, we will have given presentations [at] nearly 80 high schools to about 40,000 students in Connecticut. We play a film called “Chasing the Dragons” that was made by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, and then we have a panel discussion. The panel includes a prosecutor, a DEA agent and a parent who lost a child to an overdose.
Q: Your office has taken a strong role in fighting violent crime in Connecticut. Tell us about that effort and what still needs to be done?
A: Much of the violence in the inner cities in Connecticut is related to narcotics trafficking. We focused in on the groups and gangs responsible for that violence. We’ve prosecuted a number of RICO cases, and a number of murder cases, under the Violence in Aid of Racketeering Statute.
The studies all show that about 3 percent to 4 percent of the people living in the inner city are responsible for the vast amount of the violence. So, we’ve used a data-driven approach to identify who those players are and to focus our attention on them.
Q: What do you believe the legacy of your tenure will be in Connecticut?
A: I think we have built strong relationships between federal, state and local partners here in Connecticut so we can prioritize and prosecute the most impactful cases.
We did this by focusing on those responsible for the shootings and homicides in our inner cities. We’ve also focused on vulnerable victims, whether that’s child exploitation cases, human trafficking, sex trafficking, civil rights cases and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also focused on investor fraud, particularly where victims are vulnerable for some reason.
We’ve also focused on going after fraud committed by professionals, such as lawyers or accountants. We’ve also stood up to the powerful, whether that is public corruption cases like former Gov. John Rowland or in complex securities fraud where the defendants have what seems to be unlimited resources.
We have done a number of things to build bridges and establish trust between the communities we serve. In particular, African-Americans, Muslims, Arabs, the Sikh community and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and others who might feel alienated or frustrated or distrustful of the government.
We’ve done a lot to stand up for police, too. Probably the six saddest days in my tenure as U.S. attorney were attending the funerals of the six police officers who killed themselves. We have a law enforcement effort to reach out to police officers to make sure they are focusing on their own mental health and wellness.
Q: What’s next for you? What is on your radar moving forward?
A: This has been an extraordinary job. As I’ve said to people before, this has been the gift of a lifetime.
Now, I need to put some space between this job and whatever I do next. I haven’t made any decisions. But I’ve worked for 33 years and I just had my 30th wedding anniversary and our sons are on their way. So, now, I will take a deep breath.
Q: What’s the one case that you were involved with that had the biggest impact on you personally?
A: It was a case I prosecuted and helped investigate while I was here as deputy U.S. attorney. I prosecuted it with Mike Gustafson, who will be the new acting interim U.S. attorney.
It was an arson that occurred in Fair Haven. Nineteen people were living in a building and the whole building was torched. Literally babies, pregnant women, toddlers, and grandmothers leapt out of windows to survive. But, tragically, a 7-year-old boy, a young mother in her early 20s and a mother a little bit older were killed.
It happened in March 2011 and was a difficult case to investigate. It was difficult because, as is often the case with arson, there is no DNA and no eyewitnesses.
We had a terrific New Haven Police Department officer who found a cooperator who helped us identify who torched the building. The defendants, a father and son, were both convicted. The son was the primary offender and he received life imprisonment.
It was an emotional case because of the tragedy involved. But it was also a gratifying case because it was solved and prosecuted.