Corporation commission hopeful had pot incident - East Valley Tribune: News

Corporation commission hopeful had pot incident

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Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2008 5:49 pm | Updated: 10:44 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A candidate for Arizona Corporation Commission had his privileges of driving a government vehicle rescinded nearly four years ago after a Border Patrol agent said he found marijuana residue in the car.

The report by Joe Navarro also said that Paul Newman, a Cochise County supervisor, "admitted that he had smoked some marijuana in the vehicle, but did not state when." And Navarro said Newman, when questioned, said that he "felt bad" because he was not only a county supervisor but also an attorney.

Newman would not answer questions Friday about what happened, instead providing a written response saying the incident "is a chapter in my life that I consider fully closed."

In his statement, Newman said the incident, which occurred in 2004, was brought to the attention of both the county sheriff and attorney, "both of whom agreed that there was no basis for any further investigation into this matter."

But a report by Lance Crosthwait, at the time the chief deputy county sheriff, said a decision was made not to pursue criminal charges because his agency did not learn of the incident until more than a month later. He said there was a "lack of physical evidence," with the Border Patrol reporting marijuana residue along with ashes from burnt marijuana and rolling paper.

All that, Crosthwait said, "would do little to support the prospect of producing a viable or prosecutable case regarding possession of illicit narcotics."

Asked if smoking marijuana in a county car reflects on his judgment to be a corporation commissioner, Newman responded, "I stand by my statement. I have no comment for your question."

Commissioners, in effect, sit as judges and rule on various matters, including requests by utilities for rate hikes and whether individuals and companies violated state laws on the selling of securities.

According to the Border Patrol report, agents had set up a checkpoint on Sept. 15, 2004, along Highway 90, between Sierra Vista and Benson.

Navarro said Newman, driving a white 2002 Ford Crown Victoria with government license plates, entered the checkpoint. As he drove past Navarro's location, the agent said that his dog "alerted" to the vehicle.

Newman eventually was directed into a secondary inspection area.

"Newman was visibly shaking, breathing rapidly, and was obviously nervous," Navarro wrote about his demeanor after he got out of the vehicle. The agent said the dog entered the vehicle on its own and alerted on the ash tray in the center of the dashboard.

"I looked in the ashtray and saw ashes, small pieces of burnt rolling paper, and some marijuana residue," Navarro said. The agent said he got out of the car and informed Newman of what he had found.

"He again stated that he was late for a meeting and appeared anxious to leave the checkpoint," telling the agent at that point he was a county supervisor, Navarro wrote. The agent said he then informed a superior.

According to Navarro, Newman told another agent that he had smoked some marijuana in the vehicle "but did not state when." Navarro said he was a witness to that statement, as was the supervisor.

Navarro said since there was no "seizable" amount of marijuana in the vehicle, the decision was made simply to make a report and let Newman go on his way.

Cochise County Supervisor Patrick Call, in a memo, said he was unaware of the incident until a month later when a "contact in the Border Patrol" told him of the traffic stop. Call, then the chairman of the board, said the agent in charge of the Border Patrol's Naco office confirmed the incident but would not release the report without Newman's permission, something he said Newman refused to do.

It was only after Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever was able to obtain a copy of the report that Call convened the special meeting of the supervisors.

According to the meeting minutes, a deputy county attorney told the board it had no authority to reprimand or take other action against a supervisor.

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