Hempstead school board member Melissa Figueroa was arrested on a marijuana possession charge Thursday night, police said, after a village police officer noticed she was not wearing a seat belt and pulled her car over.
The officer “smelled marijuana in the car and found a used marijuana cigarette,” Lynbrook Police Chief Joseph Neve said Friday.
Figueroa, 37, of Saint Pauls Road in Hempstead, was driving on Lakeview Avenue near Ocean Avenue in Lynbrook when her car was stopped at about 10:30 p.m., two hours after the school board had met and approved a contract for a new superintendent.
She was given a desk appearance ticket to appear June 15 in First District Court in Hempstead on a charge of unlawful possession of marijuana, Neve said. She was detained in a cell at the police headquarters for roughly 2 and a half hours, the police chief said.
Figueroa said in a text message Friday morning that she was “set up” and that her attorney was handling the matter.
Neve, asked about Figueroa’s comment, said she “wasn’t set up by the Lynbrook Police Department. I don’t know what she’s referring to.”
Figueroa’s attorney, Frederick K. Brewington of Hempstead, said in an interview later Friday, “This is a matter that’s going to be handled legally, and it appears as though this was an unfortunate setup.”
He asked, “Why, if there’s an alleged routine car stop, you make a woman get out of the car at 10:30 at night, when there’s only male officers around?” He noted that the department “did not give her a ticket for why they stopped her.”
Neve could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
Brewington also questioned why school board trustee LaMont Johnson was outside the Lynbrook Police Department on Thursday night.
Johnson, in an interview Friday, said he was at the department after midnight “as a concerned board member.”
Earlier on Thursday night, Figueroa was one of three school board members who voted to approve a four-year contract for incoming Superintendent Shimon Waronker.
Figueroa, board president Maribel Touré and trustee Gwendolyn Jackson voted to approve the hiring, while Johnson and David Gates opposed it. The board has been sharply divided along those lines this school year.
The district’s lawyers and Touré did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
Figueroa is seeking re-election in Tuesday’s school board vote with challenges from Deborah DeLong and Randy Stith.
Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, said that “a school board member who is arrested is still presumed innocent. She can of course resign, but she need not do so.”
Figueroa was elected in May 2016 to fill out the remaining term of Ricky Cooke Sr., who had resigned.
She is a property manager and freelance dive instructor. Figueroa also is a trustee on the Hempstead Public Library board, and a member of New York Communities for Change and The Corridor Counts, both of which are community activist groups.
Of the remaining current board members, Gates and Jackson could not be reached for comment. Johnson said, “She needs to take responsibility for her actions and stop pointing fingers.”
School board candidate DeLong declined to comment, and candidate Stith said, “It’s a very unfortunate incident.”