Dontae Devon Dennis

Dontae Devon Dennis

CENTREVILLE — A Centreville man with drug-related offenses dating back to 1998 was convicted of involuntary manslaughter Thursday, Sept. 30, after selling a fentanyl capsule that led to the overdose and death of 31-year-old James Alexander Reed Jr. of Chester.

The manslaughter charge was only one of eight circuit court convictions handed down to Dontae Devon Dennis, 44. According to Deputy State’s Attorney Christine Dulla Rickard, who prosecuted the case, Dennis, who was on parole for at the time of his arrest, faces 50 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 16.

“I’m glad that the jury found him guilty,” Rickard said in an interview. “You don’t get to put poison into the community and wreak havoc on families.”

On June 5, 2020, after a 911 call reported an unusually parked vehicle, sheriff’s deputies and emergency medical services personnel responded to the Royal Farms gas station in Queenstown to find a customer, an off duty paramedic, performing CPR on Reed, who he had pulled out from behind the wheel.

EMS responders, attempting to revive the unconscious driver, transported Reed to the University of Maryland Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy later confirmed the cause of death as being a despropionyl fentanyl overdose from a partially consumed gel capsule.

In the last decade, fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, has become an ever increasing factor in substance-related deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher by the end of 2019, with more than 36,000 confirmed incidents, than they were in 2013.

Those rates, more dramatic in their spikes than any statistics related to other controlled dangerous substances, have shown no signs of faltering. Provisional data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported a 55 percent increase in overdose deaths through 2020.

Members of the Queen Anne’s County Drug Task Force found the gel capsule Reed used inside his car. Seizing the victim’s cell phone, the task force worked with the state’s attorney’s office to issue multiple subpoenas and search warrants related to phone records, video surveillance, and social media sites — an investigation that eventually led to an Aug. 24 arrest warrant for Dennis, who was already incarcerated on a July narcotics possession charge.

Dennis’ criminal history stretches across two decades. His first encounter with the Queen Anne’s State Attorney’s Office was in 1998, when he pleaded guilty on a possession of paraphernalia misdemeanor charge. In 2002, he pleaded guilty for manufacturing narcotics in Caroline County, for which he was sentenced six-and-a-half years of jail time.

Though not all are related to drugs — charges range from driving without a license to second-degree assault — Maryland court records list 27 cases against Dennis.

With the Centreville resident’s conviction coming on the last day of QAC Goes Purple, the month-long, countywide dedication to victims of substance abuse, local officials found a sense of poetic justice in the closed case, as well as a satisfying recount of a long-sung message.

“This conviction was yet another example of law enforcement agencies and our community working together to send a strong message,” Sheriff Gary Hofmann said. “As we close out the month of Queen Anne’s Goes Purple, we will not close out the memories of loved ones that were lost due to substance abuse.

“I can assure our community that if you have a substance issue, we will stand beside you and help you with treatment. But if you’re a drug dealer and you sell drugs to someone in our county who overdoses, we promise we will hunt you down and hold you accountable — as you have seen, yet again, in this tragic case.”

Luke Parker is a journalist and award-winning film critic covering government, schools, crime, and business. To send a tip or question, email lparker@chespub.com. For updates, like Luke Parker — Journalist on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @lparkernews.

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