Ignacio principal had criminal record

Superintendent disappointed principal ‘was not truthful’

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald  Ignacio High School principal Gary Witherspoon. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Ignacio High School principal Gary Witherspoon.

Editor's note: Criminal charges against Gary Witherspoon in Arizona were later dismissed. See related article below.

The Ignacio High School principal who was put on leave last month has a lengthy criminal record including an outstanding felony warrant, a 2010 driving under the influence charge and multiple traffic violations, mostly for speeding.

The information came to light after the Ignacio School District was sent an anonymous letter last week detailing the charges.

“I’m disappointed that he was not truthful with us,” Ignacio Superintendent Rocco Fuschetto said. “It’s a shame it came to this. If I knew any of this, it would have been completely different.”

The outstanding warrant concerns a possible narcotics offense in July 2009 when Gary Witherspoon was found with three plastic sandwich bags of pills that contain carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant that has potential for abuse.

Santa Cruz County deputies found Witherspoon, who appeared to be asleep, in his car near Amado, Ariz., about 30 miles from the Mexican border.

Witherspoon appeared to be “confused and disoriented” when police knocked on his locked car door, according to the 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.

After Witherspoon was persuaded to get out of his car, he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Witherspoon was carrying a total of 377 carisoprodol pills and two white bottles of medication labeled “Connins Alboz Omeprazol Capsulas 20mg.” No dangerous drugs or narcotics were detected in those bottles, according to the scientific examination report.

Less than a year later, Witherspoon was arrested for driving under the influence in Eloy, Ariz.

Arizona court records show Witherspoon was taken into custody in June 2010 and was ordered to complete alcohol counseling as part of his treatment.

Court records also show a list of charges on Witherspoon’s record that include driving with a revoked license, driving without insurance, failure to register his vehicle and six speeding violations dating back to 1995.

Witherspoon could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Michael Lee, his father-in-law and Ignacio town manager, declined to comment.

A background check is required to obtain a Colorado school principal’s license and Ignacio School District hired Witherspoon when his Colorado license was pending, Fuschetto said. Witherspoon most recently worked in schools in Arizona.

The background check was never completed because the Colorado Bureau of Investigation lacked Witherspoon’s fingerprints.

The district “didn’t follow up as (it) usually (does)” to make sure the background check was complete, Fuschetto said.

The information about Witherspoon’s criminal record came after the April 19 meeting when the Ignacio School Board voted unanimously to put Witherspoon on paid administrative leave and voted 3-2 not to renew his contract next year.

“My decision was based on a completely different set of things,” Fuschetto said of his recommendation to remove Witherspoon.

Witherspoon was one of many audience members who attended the April board meeting.

“It floored me,” the former principal said of the decision.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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