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Bayfield principal cleared of charges

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

A former Bayfield Middle School principal was found not guilty Thursday of harassment and false imprisonment.

Mike Lister, 54, was accused of yelling at a school councilor and holding her against her will near the end of the school day March 5.

A one-day trial was held Thursday in La Plata County Court. A six-person jury, including four men and two women, took about an hour to reach its verdict on both misdemeanor counts.

Lister, who did not take the witness stand in his own defense, had no comment while leaving the courthouse.

His Durango defense lawyer, Joel Fry, said: “The jury did the right thing. There was no crime committed.”

Former school councilor Tara Gray said Lister barged into her office, screamed at her, pointed his index finger at her and would not allow her to leave for about an hour.

She described him as looking very angry, “like a cartoon character with steam coming out of his ears,” according to an arrest affidavit.

Gray, who testified Thursday, said she felt threatened and intimidated by Lister’s actions. He stood by the door and would not move when she asked to leave, she testified.

“Let me out,” she yelled. “No,” he replied, according to an arrest affidavit.

While Lister was in her office, Gray called the school nurse and held the phone toward him, saying, “Someone is on the line. They are listening.”

The nurse, Patricia Schuler-MaHaney, testified Thursday she listened in on the shouting match for five to 10 minutes.

“I would say that Mr. Lister’s voice was probably louder,” she said. “Louder, more dominant, let’s put it that way.”

She heard Lister say, “Where are you going?”

Gray: “I’m leaving.”

Lister: “No.”

Schuler-MaHaney and a substitute teacher walked by the office and saw Lister standing by the door, but neither felt the need to intervene, according to testimony Thursday.

Lister eventually permitted Gray to leave.

He then pushed redial on her office phone to find out who she dialed during the confrontation, according to testimony.

Lister went to the nurse’s office and demanded to see her in his office. He met with her for about an hour, telling her not to become involved or talk about the incident to anyone or there could be repercussions, Schuler-MaHaney said.

The next day, he called Schuler-MaHaney into his office again for about 1 hour and 20 minutes. He told her again not to become involved, she said.

Gray reported to work as usual the next day. She didn’t report the incident to law enforcement until March 7 – two days after the encounter.

Fry said the case amounts to a workplace dispute. Lister raised his voice and made Gray stay late, Fry said. He told Gray she is disrespectful, doesn’t listen, has a chip on her shoulder and needs to accept responsibility for her actions.

None of these actions rise to harassment or false imprisonment, he said.

Gray is pursuing a civil lawsuit against Lister, Fry said. She is seeking monetary damages, and a guilty verdict would help bolster her case, he told jurors.

“That’s her motive, that’s her goal,” Fry said. “It has nothing to do with criminal conduct on the part of Mr. Lister.”

He accused the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office doing the “heavy lifting” for Gray’s civil lawyer.

“That bugs me,” he said.

Prosecuting attorney Jeffrey Wasson did not return a phone call Thursday afternoon seeking comment.

District Attorney Todd Risberg could not be reached for comment.

The Bayfield School District did not return a phone call Thursday requesting information about Lister’s employment and salary.

shane@durangoherald.com

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