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Ex-Ignacio High principal cleared of Ariz. charges

Witherspoon

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

Criminal charges against a former Ignacio High School principal have been dismissed in Arizona.

Gary Witherspoon, who served as principal from August 2011 to April 2012, was suspected of possession of prescription pills, drug paraphernalia and failure to appear in court.

All three charges were dismissed earlier this month, according to court records.

Witherspoon, 41, who now lives in Williams, Ariz., said Monday the charges amounted to a misunderstanding.

“Basically, what I had were prescription pills that were not in the bottle,” Witherspoon said.

The incident occurred in July 2009 on the side of a road near Amado, Ariz., about 30 miles from the border with Mexico.

Witherspoon pulled over to rest when Santa Cruz County deputies approached his vehicle and found him asleep inside. They woke him, and he appeared to be “confused and disoriented,” according to a police report.

“It was apparent that Mr. Witherspoon possibly had a medical issue or was under the influence of an unknown substance,” the police report said.

He was taken to a hospital for observation, but he was not immediately arrested, even though he was in possession of 377 carisoprodol pills and two white medicine bottles. No dangerous drugs or narcotics were detected in the medicine bottles, according to a scientific examination report.

Witherspoon said he used the prescription pills to treat a back injury.

Within a year, Witherspoon was arrested for driving under the influence of prescription drugs in Eloy, Ariz. He was ordered to pay a fine and complete counseling.

Other charges against Witherspoon include driving with a revoked license, driving without insurance, failure to register his vehicle and six speeding violations dating back to 1995.

Witherspoon eventually moved to Colorado to take the job as principal of Ignacio High School. It was several months later that he found out an arrest warrant had been issued for him for possession of dangerous drugs, he said.

Witherspoon said he did not lie about his arrest record because his employment application asked only whether he had been convicted of a felony.

The school district placed Witherspoon on paid leave citing “personnel reasons.” Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto said Witherspoon was placed on leave before the felony warrant and criminal history surfacing.

“His termination was done before all the other stuff surfaced,” Fuschetto said during an interview Monday.

Witherspoon has filed a notice of intent to sue the school district. He and his Durango attorney, Lynne Sholler, declined to discuss the potential civil litigation. The school district declined to release a copy of the letter Monday.

A prosecutor in Santa Cruz County did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment about the drug charges being dismissed.

shane@durangoherald.com

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