Police: Pembroke Academy dean of students had heroin at school

  • Luther

  • According to police, an administrator was led out of Pembroke Academy in handcuffs Feb. 17 after heroin was discovered in her possession at the school. Parents claim the school never notified them of the ongoing investigation and subsequent resignation of Rekha Luther. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 4/1/2016 11:04:37 PM

The police quietly handcuffed one of Pembroke Academy’s top administrators and drove her away from the school in the back of a cruiser on Feb. 17, charging her with possessing heroin and steroids.

Rekha Luther, 36, was the newly hired dean of students for the 198-year-old high school that serves Pembroke, Allenstown, Epsom and Chichester. She submitted her resignation a few weeks later, effective March 22, Superintendent Patty Sherman said Friday.

Six weeks after the arrest, the school district made no public acknowledgment of it or that heroin was found in school. Even some officials with close ties to the school system remained unaware.

Jeanne LaBarge, the Pembroke mother of a 17-year-old student, noticed Luther’s name in police logs and found that none of her friends knew anything about the charges or why her name was removed from the school’s online staff list.

“Somebody just disappears from a position of authority and nobody asked questions? The kids don’t say anything? It’s amazing to me how they kept this so quiet,” she said in a phone interview Friday.

Top district officials declined to discuss the arrest in interviews Thursday and Friday. Headmaster Paul Famulari, school board Chairman Tom Serafin and Sherman each called it a “personnel issue” and said they couldn’t comment.

Luther was hired about eight months earlier to be the dean of students at Pembroke Academy – a role that deals largely with student discipline – after spending 11 years in the Nashua School District. The Pembroke School Board’s Sept. 8 meeting minutes state that Luther “blew the interview team away during the hiring process.”

Criminal charges

Pembroke police Chief Dwayne Gilman said his department began investigating after someone reported they’d found what he described as a “whole bundle” of hypodermic needles at the school. After seeing the drug paraphernalia, the caller lost track of it, Gilman said, which prompted “pretty much our whole daytime department” to respond “just because of the severity of we had needles, now we don’t know where they are.”

Gilman said his officers investigated for two to three hours and determined that the needles belonged to Luther.

“Obviously with the emphasis on heroin in the state right now, that’s just not something we wanted to take lightly,” Gilman said of the department’s response. “Everything you don’t want to hear in a school happened in one day.”

Luther was freed on $10,000 personal recognizance bail the same mid-February afternoon she was arrested. She was arraigned at Hooksett’s district court Monday.

Two weeks after the arrest, roughly 100 Pembroke residents met at the school for the district’s annual meeting, but not a word was spoken about Luther. Thomas Petit, the moderator who presided over the meeting, said in a phone interview Thursday: “I hadn’t even heard about it, to be honest with you.”

The high school occasionally sends phone alerts to parents to inform them of important safety concerns, for instance, when a lockdown interrupts the normal course of classes.

School district policy says communications between the school and home are supposed to be “regular, two-way and meaningful; parents are full partners in the educational decisions that affect children and families,” according to the district’s policy on “School, Community and Home Relations.”

Sherman, the superintendent, said if a student were found to be in possession of drugs, she would take it on a “case-by-case basis” as to whether she would send an alert to parents

If the headmaster resigned or was replaced, the district would send out a message, but for the dean of students, “probably not,” she said.

No alert was sent in the six weeks following Luther’s arrest.

Gilman said typically when police respond to a school, they make an effort not to disturb the learning environment. That was no different in this case, when Luther was walked out a back door to the cruiser.

“The kids don’t need to see this stuff, so we did it discreetly, I guess, is the best way to put it,” the chief said. “Any kind of school issues or public official issues, the kids don’t need to see all this stuff, so we kind of go off to the side.”

Police would do the same for a student, he said, to avoid perception the school is “full of” heroin.

“It’s not the case. One person had it,” Gilman said. “There’s two ways to get the job done. You can be a bull in a china shop or you can think methodically, still have the same outcome and not affect anyone else.”

Gilman said there’s no evidence Luther bought or sold the heroin or anabolic steroids at the school.

Dealing with the problem

The news that a highly educated teacher in a prestigious new job is accused of bringing heroin to the school underscores what many advocates have called an epidemic of opioid abuse in the state. More than 400 people in New Hampshire died of drug overdoses last year, the medical examiner’s office has said.

One of the overdose deaths was Jonathan Pesa, a 39-year-old Seabrook man. In Pesa’s June obituary, Luther was listed as his fiancee. The Newburyport Daily News reported that Pesa thought he was using heroin and instead got a lethal dose of fentanyl, a more deadly opioid.

As a result of her arrest in Pembroke, Luther is charged with four counts of possession of a controlled drug, including heroin, testosterone propionate, testosterone Sustanon and boldenone undecyclenate, according to court documents. The latter is an anabolic steroid developed for veterinary use, mostly for the treatment of horses. Each charge is a felony.

Luther, who lives in Manchester, didn’t return a phone call or Facebook message on Thursday or Friday. She reported in court documents that she’s never been convicted of a criminal offense.

Mike Iacopino, a Manchester attorney who is listed as having represented her at her arraignment in court documents, didn’t return a phone call left at his office Friday.

Luther was scheduled to be paid $73,000 this year, according to her contract, which she signed June 29.

LaBarge, who notified the Monitor of the arrest Thursday, said she also sent an email to Famulari. The headmaster assured her that student safety was never compromised and said that he needed to protect Luther’s “professional privacy,” she said.

“If someone in a position of authority has heroin in their possession, that’s not private anymore,” she said. “You lose your privacy.”

The district would have been better off to address the issue head-on, LaBarge said, to teach the students to confront their challenges.

“Heroin’s a big deal right now, and it is a problem. But how we deal with problems – we should be setting an example of how to deal with the problem, not trying to hide it,” she said.

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