Friday, January 18, 2008
Gruening Middle School Assistant Principal Mario Toro Jailed On Three Counts Of Possession Of Cocaine In Anchorage, Alaska
An assistant principal in the Anchorage School District accused of using cocaine on school grounds turned himself in Thursday January 17th, 2008 and has been charged with three counts of possession of cocaine and held on $10,000 bail. Stories published January 18th in the Anchorage Daily News and aired on KTUU Channel 2, HERE and HERE, and on KIMO Channel 13.
See updated post effective January 30th for subsequent developments.
Mario A. Toro Jr. (pictured above left), 43, the assistant principal at Gruening Middle School, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment to three felony counts of third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. Police searches turned up cocaine residue in Toro's office and vehicle, the records say. Because the offenses took place on school grounds, they are classified as a more serious Class B felony rather than the ordinary Class C felony.
And Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau is pissed off. "We were very disheartened that there were additional charges filed," Anchorage School Superintendant Carol Comeau said Thursday. "He was in a position where he was in some cases disciplining students, sometimes for using drugs, and that is completely disturbing."
The drug use accusations surfaced Tuesday January 15th, when district employees attending an administrative training session with Toro at Wendler Middle School saw him acting "erratically" with a white powder on his nose after he returned from his parked car. Police were contacted. When police arrived, Toro refused a voluntary search of his car and a bag. Police executed a search warrant Wednesday, finding a powder residue, and the results of a field test came back positive for cocaine, classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. Investigators ordered a full lab test to confirm the results.
School District officials said Toro wasn't around children during that meeting, but a search warrant executed Thursday on his office at Gruening turned up more cocaine residue and drug paraphernalia, according to an arrest warrant for Toro filed in court.
Those allegations are considerably worse because if he were using drugs in his office, he would have been around the children, Comeau said. Toro has been placed on paid administrative leave until the district, which plans to review the evidence and meet with him, decides what action to take, she said. "He will not be coming back to work until this is resolved, and this is so serious termination is a distinct possibility," Comeau said.
Police obtained a warrant for Toro's arrest Wednesday but were unable to locate him at his home. Toro turned himself in Thursday after learning from news reports that he was wanted, his lawyer, Rex Butler, said in court. That Toro turned himself in and didn't have to be hunted down by police showed that he was taking responsibility for the charges, which are getting undue attention because of Toro's position, Butler said.
"They've really just charged him with using a drug on school property," Butler said in an interview during a court recess. "There's no indication that he's given drugs to children or anyone else. He's not a danger to the community, but they've really gone for the gusto on this."
This type of behavior by Anchorage School District employees is relatively atypical. The last high-profile case involving educators using drugs in Anchorage was in 2004, when Centivon "Maurice" Ballard, 37, a math teacher at Clark Middle School, was convicted for possessing multiple drugs outside of school. However, the District pussyfooted around at the time, and initially place Ballard on administrative leave after the conviction, with officials thinking he could be rehabilitated and continue working in a capacity that did not involve children. But after an intense public outcry, the District wised up and terminated him.
The district generally requires drug tests for most employees only when there is suspicion of drug use, Comeau said. But people who drive district vehicles undergo routine screenings.
Toro, who has been a teacher and assistant principal with the district since 1994, was transferred this school year to Gruening after working previously at Central, Mears, Wendler and Clark middle schools, she said.
Commentary: The defense lawyer is spinning. The reason so much attention has been focused upon Toro is that his leadership position at a school of impressionable middle school kids warrants closer scrutiny. We require those in charge of our kids not merely to comply, but to exemplify compliance, otherwise the integrity of their stewardship becomes compromised.
The wisdom of our lawmakers in crafting laws is apparent here. They wisely discriminated between on and off-campus when crafting our drug laws. In between taking money from VECO, our lawmakers do a pretty decent job.