A teacher who admitted to selling drugs to high school students escaped jail after telling a court she suffered from serious mental health problems when she was filmed smoking cannabis with them.
Lauren Russell stood before Sutherland Magistrates Court on Monday after pleading guilty to supplying illegal drugs to students at Lucas Heights Community School in southern Sydney in late 2021.
The physics teacher, who was also working as the school’s 12th grade counselor at the time, went free on Monday, ending a five-month ordeal in court.
BONG SMOKING VIDEO
The 42-year-old made national headlines in February when footage of her taking a hit from a homemade Gatorade bottle bong went viral.
In the footage, the American-born mother-of-three sits on a milk crate and looks behind her before a student leans in to light the bong.
Police claimed the teacher contacted the students outside of school hours and provided them with the drugs between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on December 15, 2021.
Russell was arrested at her Beverly Hills home on February 4 and charged with supplying a illicit drug.
The video went viral days later, but no charges have been filed in relation to the video.
REFUSAL IN COURT
This was not the first time the teacher appeared in court after her arrest, but a spokeswoman for New South Wales Education confirmed she had been banned from working at the school or having contact with students.
Defense attorney Dev Bhutani appeared on March 9 for Russell via audiovisual link and pleaded not guilty.
The court was told that she would seek dismissal of the charges under the Mental Health Act.
Although Russell told the court that she had planned to defend the allegations at a hearing in June, Russell pleaded guilty to the charges in April.
Russell was supported by her husband on April 27 when she filed the plea.
While she admitted her guilt in the matter, her attorney told the court they still intend to drop the mental health charges.
“RECORDING FOR A SMOKER”
Documents presented to the court revealed that Russell texted a student asking if they wanted to “catch up and smoke one” on the afternoon of December 15.
She then picked up two minors in her car and drove them to bushland in Menai.
The court was told Russell “obtained” the cannabis from a 17-year-old former student.
According to court documents, the teacher provided the two students with cannabis to smoke from their homemade bong.
The trio took turns smoking cannabis through the Gatorade bottle bong until they were done, police say.
As Russell drove the couple to the Menai Skate Park, documents reveal that she told several people she had smoked weed with the two students.
MENTAL HEALTH APPLICATION
During her mental health hearing, Bhutani told the court that there was a fortuitous link between his client’s bipolar disorder and her “atypical” behavior, which is aggravated by excessive drinking and cannabis use.
He said the lithium tablets she was given to treat her mental illness put her at risk of a manic episode because the dosage was so low.
“Her bipolar disorder was taking over her life at the time,” he said.
“She was almost unable – at these lithium levels – to make persuasive, rational, and able decisions.”
Bhutani said the dosage of lithium tablets Russell was taking to treat her mental illness was too low, putting her at risk of a manic episode.
He said she had experienced a lengthy period of “acute mania” when supplying cannabis to her students, admitting it was a “breach of trust”.
“It is a combination of alcohol and cannabis use that has exacerbated the manic episodes over the four-month period,” Bhutani said.
Bhutani noted his client’s “impeccable record” and outstanding character, which Judge Stewart said was backed by a “glowing reference” from a former student’s parents.
A police prosecutor denied the request, emphasizing the young age of the students to whom Russell admitted supplying drugs.
On Monday, Russell stood in court with the support of her husband, where Judge Stewart denied the mental health motion.
However, the judge acknowledged that the former teacher had a “hypomanic episode” caused by her bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed in 2009 and led to “episodes” in 2011 and 2015.
The latter episode happened after she smoked cannabis abroad with her husband, the court heard.
Meanwhile, the court was told Russell lapsed into a pattern of binge drinking during the 2021 Covid lockdown and she started smoking cannabis four days before delivering it to the students.
Stewart said Russell’s moral culpability for the crime had been reduced somewhat, but not entirely.
He told the court it was in the interest of the community not to dismiss the case.
Russell was released from court on the condition that she refrain from using illegal drugs and continue to seek treatment for mental illness for at least two years.
The court also issued an injunction barring her from having contact with the students involved in her crime.
Stewart said that if Russell continued to abstain from drugs and heavy drinking, it was highly unlikely that she would be offended again.
“The offender has taken positive steps to improve her mental health,” the judge said.
“I think she has good prospects for rehabilitation.”
No conviction was recorded and Russell was ordered to undergo a treatment plan with the help of mental health professionals on a parole order.
Judge Stewart told the court Russell could undergo a court-ordered treatment plan that includes ongoing appointments with a psychiatrist, abstinence from cannabis and alcohol, and prescribed medication for bipolar disorder.
While accepting that she was a “committed teacher,” the judge questioned how neither her husband nor her peers failed to recognize the near-manic behavior.
He told the court she was “remorseful” and highly unlikely to offend him.
Stewart noted that Russell will no longer be able to tutor children, which is a “substantial” punishment.
https://nypost.com/2022/07/30/sad-reasons-why-australian-bong-smoking-teacher-supplied-drugs-to-students/ Sad reason Australian bong-smoking teacher handed out drugs to students