New Haven school janitor busted in opioid overdose cases

This story originally appeared in the New Haven Register.

By Esteban L. Hernandez – New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN >> A night shift janitor at the city’s Lincoln-Bassett School is among the three men facing federal drug charges after their arrest Monday in connection with a string of overdoses in the city, the district said Wednesday.

Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries said Wednesday that Steven Whaley, 48, has been a custodian at New Haven Public Schools for more than 10 years. Whaley is charged with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance after federal authorities said he and two other men were linked to a string of at least 12 overdoses in the city last week. Three of the people who overdosed died.

The city’s Department of Human Resources also confirmed Whaley is employed by the district. He’s listed as an assistant building manager.

Harries said Whaley is on paid administrative leave while authorities investigate the case. Harries said there is no any indication that Whaley’s alleged criminal conduct took place at the school. As a night shift janitor, Harries said Whaley has minimal contact with students and no planned contact with them.

“We have no indications there have been any exposure to students around this and obviously this is our primary concern given what we know,” Harries said.

Authorities alleged Whaley, along with Frank Pina, 57, and Jerome “Romie” Clay Sr., 55, were drug dealers who distributed pure fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 50 times stronger than heroin. Authorities said the users last week believed they were buying cocaine.

Harries said he doesn’t want Whaley’s alleged actions to reflect the work completed at Lincoln-Bassett School. The actions do not reflect the teachers and administrators at the school who have worked hard to achieve academic goals, Harries said.

“That school has made a lot of progress in the last few years,” Harries said. “If this is substantiated, I am terribly sorry we had someone like this in our midst.”

Harries said the district will allow Whaley to have his due process before making future considerations about his employment with the district. He said he was notified about Whaley’s arrest through several sources close to the investigation, including New Haven police. The district is cooperating with investigators, Harries said.

The school conducts background checks on potential employees and continues to monitor them after hiring. There wasn’t anything in Whaley’s personnel record that indicated concerns about student’s safety around him, Harries said.

“The student’s safety is of the upmost priority,” Harries said. “We have thousands of committed educators who watch the students and watch each other too.”

The number of overdoses last week led the city to label the events a “public health emergency.” The state even sent 700 doses of the opiate antidote naloxone, or Narcan, to help the city’s dwindling supply following the overdoses.

Watch health and addiction professionals talk about the opioid crisis.

According to the affidavit for the three men arrested, an overdose patient told police he bought drugs from “Steve,” referring to Whaley. The patient gave police Whaley’s address on Bassett Street, and following surveillance by other means, investigators were able to confirm Whaley resided at the property.

Whaley and the two other men remain in custody after being arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah A. L. Merriam in U.S. District Court in New Haven on Tuesday.

If found guilty, Whaley and the other men would face a maximum of 20 years in prison and $1 million fine for each offense.


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