NEWBURYPORT — Acting on an anonymous tip that at least one Newburyport High School student was selling alcohol to other students, police last October began what turned out to be a months-long investigation into under-aged drinking in and around the High Street school.
In December, the investigation bore fruit with the arrests of two teenagers outside a Crow Lane address. Both teens accepted responsibility and were sentenced earlier this month. Their records will be cleared if they follow the court’s orders.
The arrests are part of the department’s and the city’s continuing efforts to curtail under-aged drug and alcohol use. Founded in 2006, the Beacon Coalition is a multi-faceted group that looks to find solutions to reduce under-age use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Its members include the police department and Newburyport Youth Services.
Through a combination of outreach programs and grant money, the coalition has been effective in combating not only under-aged drug and alcohol use, but public drunkenness, overserving at bars and adults who purchase alcohol for minors. In recent months, police have made a series of high profile arrests and busts as a result of party patrols and alcohol compliance checks inside and around pouring establishments.
Newburyport police are also hoping the addition of the department’s new school liaison officer Gregory Whitney inside the city’s schools will make a dent in not only combating under-aged drinking, but drug use and other hot-button topics.
City Marshal Thomas Howard said he has been very pleased with Whitney’s first few weeks inside the district’s schools especially considering his role has been tailored or redefined since the last time the department was able to deploy an officer there. Whitney has benefited with additional training thanks to a Beacon Coalition grant.
But Howard said it is too early to tell how effective Whitney has been at curtailing under-aged drinking as he has been resolving issues happening in the schools on a daily basis.
“Since he’s been in there, unfortunately it’s been non-stop,” Howard said.
Andrea Egmont, director of Youth Services for the city, said under-aged drinking on high school grounds was uncommon, pointing to a 2012 study that showed only 6 percent of students claimed to have consumed alcohol while at school within 30 days of the time they were interviewed. The poll was conducted in 2011 as part of a Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
“It’s not a majority of the kids by any means,” Egmont said.
But when asked if they had taken illegal drugs on school grounds over a one-year period, 23 percent of students said yes.
Parents have begun stepping up as well. Recently, a Newburyport mother began a parent support group aimed at offering parents a place to pool their ideas and vent their frustrations with other parents. Another group, looking into the growing problem of K2 abuse, is also in the works. K2 is a legal substance similar to potpourri, which can be smoked to produce a hallucination high.
Egmont said Youth Services is also exploring non-punitive measures that will focus on getting students the help they need rather than punish them for past transgressions. The Newburyport School District has been working closely with Youth Services, she said.
Last week, one of the two teens, Christopher Gallagher, 18, of 314 High St., Newburyport, avoided jail time when he pleaded out to being a person under 21 in possession of alcohol charge. Gallagher admitted to sufficient facts to Judge Allen Swan, who then ordered his case continued without finding for three months. Should Gallagher remain out of trouble and pay $100 in court costs, the charge against him would be tossed.
The other teen, Cameron Beaulieu, 17, of 142 Crow Lane, chose to enter Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s youthful diversion program. The program gives first-time nonviolent offenders between 17 and 21 years of age the opportunity to receive services in lieu of being prosecuted through the traditional court process. If Beaulieu completes the program, Blodgett’s office will dismiss the charge against him and he will not have a court record. If he doesn’t successfully complete the program or voluntarily withdraws from the program, the case will go forward in court for prosecution, according to the Essex County District Attorney’s office.
According to Newburyport police Sgt. Stephen Chaisson’s report, Beaulieu was suspected of pouring vodka into bottles of spring water and selling them to students. The vodka was purchased by Beaulieu’s father, Ernest Beaulieu, at a Seabrook liquor store. The father then gave it to his son. As a result, Ernest Beaulieu was also investigated by police.
On a late December evening, Chaisson noticed the younger Beaulieu leaving his Crow Lane residence and entering a car driven by Gallagher. Chaisson watched them for about 10 minutes before walking over to the parked car. Beaulieu was spotted with a marijuana pipe on his lap and a bottle of spring water by his side. A search of Gallagher resulted in the seizure of a glass pipe and a lighter. Both teens were charged with alcohol-related offenses and a civil marijuana violation, according to Chaisson’s report.