Riverside behavioral aide arrested for furnishing fentanyl to special needs students, one of which OD’d last week
RIVERSIDE, Calif., — Authorities say the investigation into a special needs student who overdosed on fentanyl last week but survived led to the arrest of a now-former employee at the Riverside private school the student was attending Tuesday, May 17. The suspect’s husband was also arrested on related charges after a search of the couple’s on-campus cottage where the couple still reside uncovered more than 100 fentanyl pills along with two firearms and ammunition, according to officials.
The woman who was arrested, 46-year-old Melissa Harloam-Garrison, has since been terminated from her place of employment, Bright Futures Academy (BFA), where she has been accused of distributing fentanyl to at least eight to ten students, including the student who overdosed the prior week. The BFA – Riverside campus, located at 9994 County Farm Road, is a non-public school that serves students with special needs from kindergarten to 12th grade.
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Riverside Police Officers responded to a call for service at the campus around 4:30 p.m. last Tuesday after receiving the report of an incorrigible juvenile, Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback has since reported.
“This is the type of school that has kids with special needs and cognitive and behavioral struggles, so it’s not necessarily uncommon for us to respond like that,” Railsback explained.
While there, officers were contacted by school staff regarding another employee who was suspected of possibly giving fentanyl to students, including the student who overdosed the week prior at their home in a neighboring city. That student was revived by paramedics and will recover, according to Railsback.
Based on the allegations detectives with the Narcotics Unit responded and assumed the investigation, with assistance from Sexual Assault-Child Abuse (SACA) Unit detectives.
Although Riverside PD’s investigation revealed Harloam-Garrison worked for the school in a variety of capacities including as a bus driver and campus security officer, BFA representatives have since said she was actually employed by the school as a behavioral aide. In a public response to the arrests, BFA also said Harloam-Garrison has been terminated and is no longer employed by the school. However, several people familiar with the school’s operations have since said both she and her husband still live in one of the cottages on the school’s campus.
“I guess her status or her job at the school she’s actually employed, is acting as security or campus aid, but is also a bus driver, and we believe that she’s related to the owner or chief operating officer, who is her mother,” Railsback explained, adding, “There’s probably been at least eight to 10 students that this employee gave fentanyl to.”
As their investigation continued, narcotics and SACA detectives conducted a search of the on-campus cottage Harloam-Garrison and her husband, 58-year-old David Garrison, where they discovered and seized more than one hundred suspected fentanyl pills, two handguns, and various types of ammunition.
Based on their investigative findings, Harloam-Garrison was arrested and later booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on suspicion of possession of narcotics for sale, sale of narcotics to minors, possession of controlled substances, being a drug addict in possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm on school campus, being a person prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm, and child endangerment.
Her husband was also arrested and later booked into jail on suspicion of possessing a firearm on campus and being a person prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm due to one or more prior felony convictions.
Online jail records indicate both Harloam-Garrison and her husband remain in custody, with Harloam-Garrison’s bail set at $200,000 and her husband’s bail set at $30,000.
According to BFA representatives, after learning of the allegations and related arrests, the California Department of Education temporarily revoked the Riverside campus’s special education funding certification; however, districts are still permitted to send students to BFA-Riverside utilizing general education funds. Their Adalanto campus has not been affected by the allegations and remains open to current and new special needs enrollments.
The school has also said it has made counselors available to students and staff to help process the incident, and that it will enhance their employee screening process with new drug tests and regular monitoring.
The Riverside campus will be closed to students on Monday, to allow school employees and administrators to meet and discuss “how to best serve the mental health and education expectations of their special needs students”, according to BFA.
In response to community outcry over the pair of arrests, Bright Futures Academy on Friday released a statement that said in part:
Bright Futures Academy (BFA) has become ensnared in a terrible situation involving a now-former employee, Melissa Harloam-Garrison, who is alleged to have provided illegal drugs to a small number of students. School administration is working with local law enforcement, student families, and as well as state and local education offices toward resolution of this event. Our Adelanto campus remains open. BFA has been and remains committed to the safety of the students in their care.
None of the school personnel involved were felons, as has been reported. No students were killed or admitted to a hospital for an overdose. Mrs. Harloam-Garrison was a Behavioral Aide – not a bus driver or security guard as has been reported. She has been terminated by BFA.
BFA is appealing today’s hasty decision by the California Department of Education to temporarily revoke our special education funding certification. Districts are still permitted to send students to BFA-Riverside utilizing general education funds. This will allow families to continue their child’s education routine with the same teachers and curriculum they have had all year.
Parents will continue to receive updates from school administrators. The school has been searched by Riverside Police Department investigators as well as an independent team of drug-sniffing dogs. No additional illicit items have been found.
Riverside PD’s investigation is active and ongoing, and no further details have been released.
Anyone with additional information regarding this investigation and related arrests or who was sold or knows of someone who was sold or provided fentanyl by either of the accused subjects is encouraged to contact Riverside PD’s Narcotics Unit at (951) 353-7200. Callers can refer to incident file number 220013539 and can remain anonymous.
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Trevor Montgomery, 51, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and operates Riverside County News Source (RCNS) and Shasta County News Source (SCNS). Both are stringer organizations, providing breaking news coverage and community interest stories for other mainstream media organizations throughout the two regions they serve.
Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; the Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County; and Mountain Echo in Shasta County. He is also a regular contributor to Thin Blue Line TV and Law Enforcement News Network and has had his stories featured on news stations throughout the Southern California and North State regions.
Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.
Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.