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Former Helena elementary teacher facing felony drug charge

Former Helena elementary teacher facing felony drug charge

From the Weekly news wrap up 12/6/19. series
Eric Lehman

Eric Lehman conducts the daily morning meeting with his fourth grade class at Hawthorne Elementary School in this file photo from 2007. 

A former Helena elementary school teacher is facing a felony charge of criminal possession of dangerous drugs after an Aug. 31 traffic stop led a Montana Highway Patrol trooper to discover a variety of illicit drugs in his unregistered vehicle.

Eric Lehman, husband of Democratic state superintendent of public instruction candidate Melissa Romano, was in possession of psilocybin mushrooms, one LSD tab, approximately 2 grams of methamphetamine and approximately a gram of cocaine, according to the arresting officer's affidavit filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court on Tuesday.

Judge Mike Menahan released Lehman on his own recognizance.

An arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 11 at 8:30 a.m.

Lehman resigned from his position as a Hawthorne Elementary School fourth and fifth grade teacher Nov. 1, about two months after his run-in with the highway patrol. In a letter sent at the time to parents, Hawthorne Principal Deb Jacobsen wrote, "Mr. Lehman resigned his teaching position for personal reasons ... We wish Mr. Lehman the best."

Helena Public Schools Superintendent Tyler Ream said he could disclose a limited amount of information about the pending case, but noted that the school district did not learn about the charge until Tuesday. 

"I can't divulge prior discussions with employees," he said. 

Ream also said the district only drug tests employees it is legally obligated to test, such as bus drivers.

He said drug testing teachers is "not part of our current policy."

Romano, who lost to Republican candidate Elsie Arntzen in the 2016 race for state superintendent of schools, is listed as a possible witness for the prosecution in court filings.

"Needless to say, it has been a very difficult time for our family," Romano said a statement via Twitter. "(W)e are proud of Eric for taking responsibility for his actions, seeking treatment, and making amends. Families stick together through thick and thin in order to heal, and ours is no different."

The highway patrol trooper initiated the August traffic stop after he saw Lehman's vehicle "nearly run a red light" at the intersection of Henderson and Brady streets, and a records check determined the vehicle's registration was inactive, according to the affidavit.

During the traffic stop, the trooper smelled marijuana. He obtained a warrant to search the vehicle after Lehman refused to allow a search.

The trooper discovered the drugs in a gray bag on the passenger-side floor. A field test kit confirmed the substances recovered were methamphetamine and cocaine.


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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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