Science

The sad reason an Australian bong-smoking teacher supplied students with drugs

A teacher who admitted to selling drugs to high school students escaped jail after telling a court she had serious mental health problems when she was caught on video smoking marijuana with them.

Lauren Russell appeared in a local court in Sutherland on Monday after pleading guilty to supplying illegal drugs to students at Lucas Heights Community School in southern Sydney at the end of 2021.

The physics teacher, who was also working as a grade 12 school counselor at the time, was released on Monday, ending a five-month legal battle.

VIDEO BONG SMOKER

The 42-year-old made headlines across the country in February when footage of her puffing on a homemade bong with a bottle of Gatorade went viral.

In the footage, the US-born mother of three sits on a milk crate and looks around before a student bends down to light a bong.

Lauren RussellAustralian teacher Lauren Russell pleaded guilty to supplying school students with drugs. Facebook/7NEWS

The police said that on December 15, 2021, the teacher contacted the students after school hours and provided them with medicines between 15:00 and 17:00.

Russell was arrested at her home in Beverly Hills on February 4 on charges of supplying illegal drugs.

A few days later, the video went viral, but no charges were filed in connection with the video.

REFUSAL IN COURT

The teacher did not appear in court on her first appearance since her arrest, but a spokesperson for the New South Wales Department of Education confirmed that she was prevented from working at the school or interacting with students.

Defense attorney Dev Bhutani spoke on behalf of Russell via audiovisual link on March 9 and pleaded not guilty.

The court was told that she would seek the dismissal of the charge under the Mental Health Act.

SHOCK CUT

Although she told the court she planned to defend the charges at a hearing in June, Russell pleaded guilty to the charges in April.

Russell was supported by her husband on April 27 as she pleaded.

Although she pleaded guilty in the case, her lawyer told the court that they still intended to drop the charge on mental health grounds.

“CAUGHT SMOKING”

Court documents showed that Russell texted the student and asked if he wanted to “catch up and smoke” on the afternoon of December 15.

She then picked up the two minors in her car and drove them to the thicket in Menai.

The court heard that Russell “stocked” cannabis from a 17-year-old former student.

According to court documents, a teacher gave two students cannabis so they could smoke their homemade bong.

According to police evidence, the trio took turns smoking cannabis through a Gatorade bottle bong until they were done.

When Russell took the couple to the Menai Skate Park, documents show that she told several people that she smoked weed with two students.

NEED FOR MENTAL HEALTH

During a mental health hearing, Bhutani told the court that there was sometimes a connection between her client’s bipolar disorder and her “uncharacteristic” behavior, which was exacerbated by drinking and marijuana use.

He said that the lithium pills she was given to treat her mental illness put her at risk of a manic episode because the dose was so low.

“His bipolar disorder defined his life at the time,” he said.

“She was almost incapable – at this level of lithium – to make important, rational and reasonable decisions.”

Butani said the dose of lithium pills Russell took to treat her mental illness was too low, putting her at risk of a manic episode.

He said she had already gone through a long period of “acute mania” when giving cannabis to her students and admitted that it was a “breach of trust”.

“It was a combination of alcohol and marijuana use that exacerbated the manic episodes over a four-month period,” Bhutani said.

Bhutani noted his client’s “impeccable record” and excellent character, which Magistrate Stuart said was backed up by a “commendation” from the former student’s parents.

The police prosecutor objected to the request, pointing out the young age of the students to whom Russell confessed to supplying drugs.

REQUEST REJECTED

On Monday, Russell appeared in court with the support of her husband, where Magistrate Stewart dismissed the mental health claim.

However, the judge acknowledged that the former teacher had experienced an “episode of hypomania” caused by her bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed in 2009 and led to “episodes” in 2011 and 2015.

This latest episode came after she smoked marijuana abroad with her husband, the court heard.

Meanwhile, the court was told that Russell drank heavily during the 2021 Covid lockdown and began smoking cannabis four days before supplying students.

Stewart said that Russell’s moral guilt for the crime was somewhat, but not completely, reduced.

He told the court that it was in the public interest not to close the case.

PHRASE

Russell left court on the condition that she abstain from illegal drug use and continue mental health treatment for at least two years.

The court also issued an order forbidding him from any contact with students involved in his offense.

Stewart said that if Russell continued to abstain from drugs and drink heavily, it was unlikely that she would commit a crime again.

Lauren RussellLauren RussellLauren Russell was filmed smoking a bong with her students. Facebook/7NEWS

“The perpetrator has taken positive steps to improve her mental health,” the judge said.

“I think she has good prospects for rehab.”

No convictions were reached and Russell was ordered to follow a treatment plan with the help of mental health professionals in accordance with the parole order.

RESULTS, ACHIEVEMENTS

Magistrate Stewart told the court that Russell could follow a court-ordered treatment plan that included regular appointments with a psychiatrist, abstinence from cannabis and alcohol, and prescribed medication for bipolar disorder.

Although he acknowledged that she was a “dedicated teacher”, the judge questioned how neither her husband nor his colleagues were able to acknowledge the near-manic behavior.

He told the court that she was “repentant” and unlikely to offend.

Stewart noted that Russell would no longer be able to teach children, which was a “significant” punishment.

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