A Riverside special needs school employee accused of supplying fentanyl to students, causing at least one to suffer a medical emergency, must stand trial for child cruelty and other offenses, a judge ruled Wednesday, after the defendant’s husband pleaded guilty to firearms-related charges.

Melissa Harloam Garrison, 47, and David Wayne Garrison, 58, were arrested in May following an investigation by the Riverside Police Department’s Narcotics Unit.

During a preliminary hearing at the Riverside Hall of Justice, David Garrison admitted one count each of illegal possession of a gun and being a convicted domestic abuser in possession of a firearm, as part of a plea agreement with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. In exchange for admitting the felonies, prosecutors dropped a charge of possession of controlled substances while armed.

Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz certified the terms of the plea deal and immediately sentenced Garrison to a year in jail and 24 months probation.

At the end of the hearing, the judge found there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for Melissa Garrison on three counts each of child cruelty and furnishing controlled substances to a minor, along with one count of dealing in controlled substances and a sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegation.

The judge scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for Nov. 28. Garrison is being held on $200,000 bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.

According to Riverside police spokesman Officer Ryan Railsback, on the afternoon of May 17, patrol officers were called to the Bright Futures Academy in the 9000 block of County Farm Road to investigate reports of an employee selling fentanyl to students at the K-12 campus, which the California Department of Education says is geared to children with behavioral disorders.

Railsback said that while questioning witnesses, officers learned a “student had recently overdosed on suspected fentanyl the week prior at their home in another city.”

The youth, whose identity was not released, survived.

Detectives initiated an investigation that revealed Melissa Garrison, a bus driver and security guard at the campus, had been supplying undisclosed quantities of the synthetic opioid to the children, Railsback alleged.

According to the criminal complaint, Garrison recruited two students — a female identified in court documents only as “M.D.” and a male identified only as “J.G.” — to help peddle the drug over an unspecified period of time.

The defendants resided on the campus in a cottage, Railsback said.

The property was searched and “over 100 suspected fentanyl pills, two handguns and various types of ammunition” were seized, according to the police spokesman.

Court documents showed Melissa Garrison has a prior felony conviction in another jurisdiction, but the offense wasn’t specified. David Garrison was convicted of the domestic abuse charge in 2012.

Fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, including in China, and according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it’s smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by cartels. The substance is 80-100 times more potent than morphine and can be mixed into any number of street narcotics and prescription drugs, without the user knowing what he or she is consuming. Ingestion of only two milligrams can be fatal.

Sheriff Chad Bianco said recently there have been 338 fentanyl-related deaths so far this year. In 2021, there were just over 400 — a 200-fold increase from 2016.

Statistics published in May by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated there were roughly 108,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2021, and fentanyl poisoning accounted for over 80,000 of them.

On Oct. 20, the county initiated a public awareness campaign called “The Faces of Fentanyl,” emphasizing the perils of using the drug. The campaign web portal, www.FacesOfFentanyl.net, offers resources, including substance abuse counseling options, that are available to residents countywide.

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