Employee focus of an earlier inquiry

The Simmons Elementary School office manager who was arrested Thursday after bringing methamphetamine to the North Las Vegas campus had been investigated earlier this year when the same drug was found on his desk.

According to the arrest report for Joseph Rodriguez, 48, employees in the three-person office discovered crystal meth inside a magazine on his desk several months ago, but Clark County School District police did not have enough evidence to arrest him.

“No one claimed it, and we couldn’t make a case that anyone possessed it,” said school police spokesman Lt. Ken Young.

Rodriguez and his partner, Dondero Elementary School Principal LeRoy Espinosa, were arrested Thursday. Rodriguez was taken into custody after co-workers found a small bag of the drug next to an office copy machine and reported it to police.

Espinosa, 53, who owns a house with Rodriguez, was arrested later, after police found meth in his truck and marijuana at his home, the report said.

Rodriguez initially denied knowing about the drugs and allowed police to search him and his car, the report said. Officers discovered marijuana in the vehicle’s center console. Pipes containing meth and marijuana residue were also found, the report said.

Rodriguez first told police the items belonged to Espinosa but then admitted they were his.

He told police he used meth to “wake him up” after he took his HIV medication, which made him tired. He also told police the meth found in the school office was his and “must have fallen out while he pulled his keys from his pocket,” the report said.

More drugs were at his home, Rodriguez told police.

At the home, Espinosa consented to a search and told police he’d been using meth for about two months.

In total, less than an ounce of meth was recovered by police.

“Everything pointed to it (the drugs) being for personal consumption only,” Young said.

In a letter to parents Friday, Simmons Principal Christine Prosen said her school was cooperating with investigators.

“Please know that at no time did students have access to illegal substances,” she wrote.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes declined to comment on the arrests, which he said were personnel issues. Clark County School Board President Terri Janison said she wanted police “to investigate everything thoroughly.”

District spokesman Michael Rodriguez said both men are currently on leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

The Simmons office manager also is on leave but it was unclear Friday whether it’s paid or unpaid since he is support staff and covered by a different contract than Espinosa, district officials said.

“We have to let that process run its course, see what they (police) find and obviously take appropriate action depending on what comes of the investigation,” Michael Rodriguez said.

General employees in the district can be asked to submit to drug testing if there is reasonable suspicion, the district spokesman said. School police and transportation employees are tested annually.

It’s unusual for school police to deal with employee possession of drugs at a school, Young said.

As parents left their children at Simmons Friday morning, it was clear many did not know about the drug arrest of the school’s office manager.

“I tell you what, that concerns me very much,” said one unidentified parent after dropping off his daughter at the campus near Tropical Parkway and Clayton Street. “Nothing good about this.”

According to Simmons’ accountability report, it served 820 students in 2009-10. Rodriguez has worked in various district jobs since 1992. He’s been a food service worker, a teaching assistant and a secretary. He became office manager at Simmons in 2006.

At Dondero, near Harmon Avenue and Jones Boulevard, parents could not believe Espinosa had been arrested.

“This has got to be a mistake,” said Willie Battle, a foster parent. “He just didn’t strike me as that type of person. I was shocked when I read it in the newspaper and then saw it on TV.”

Many of Battle’s foster children have attended Dondero. Battle said Espinosa was a principal “who was on top the situation” and “respected by the teachers.”

Espinosa also was described as a school leader who went out of his way to help families. When Shirlene Watson’s family had to move out of Dondero’s attendance zone, Espinosa made arrangements for Watson’s 6-year-old daughter to stay at the school.

Espinosa has been principal of Dondero since 2003. It’s the only school where he has served as principal. He started his career with the district as an elementary school teacher in 1991 and become an assistant principal in 2000.

Dondero enrolled 724 students last year, its accountability report said, and was designated as “high achieving” after showing adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Espinosa was booked on one felony count of possession of methamphetamine, one misdemeanor count of possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana and four misdemeanor counts of possession of narcotics paraphernalia.

Rodriguez faces one felony count of methamphetamine possession, one misdemeanor count of possession of 1 ounce of marijuana or less and two misdemeanor counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Jail records indicate Espinosa and Rodriguez were released from the Clark County Detention Center on Friday, but neither responded to inquiries for comment.

While being transported to jail Thursday afternoon, Rodriguez told police he “has had a problem for some time and has needed to get help.”

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@review journal.com or 702-374-7917. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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