Threats, Hitting Officers Lead To Charges Against Man

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A former Rim Country Middle School teacher who pleaded not guilty to threatening the school’s principal and then resisting arrest appeared in court Monday.

Former social studies teacher Russell Edward Graham, 49, spoke little at the report hearing in a Gila County courtroom, letting his attorney speak for him via telephone.

Graham was indicted by a grand jury Sept. 2 on charges of resisting arrest with physical force and using a telephone to intimidate, threaten or harass.

On Sept. 28, Graham pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently considering a plea offer with the Gila County Attorney’s Office. A second report hearing for the case is set for Dec. 7.

Graham was arrested May 12 after Rim Country Middle School Principal Gary Witherspoon called police to report that Graham had threatened him with physical assault over the telephone, said Payson Police Chief Don Engler.

In a police report, Officer Billy Hoffman gave the following account of the incident.

On May 12, Hoffman learned from dispatch that Graham had been on administrative leave since April 29 for allegedly assaulting a student.

Until the school board completed an investigation into the claim, Graham was not to call or visit school property.

However, Graham had reportedly continued calling the school district several times asking about the status of the investigation. On May 12, Graham called the district office and spoke with a secretary. During the conversation, Graham reportedly said, “If I’m going to get fired, I might as well go to the middle school and kick Gary Witherspoon’s a--.”

Graham then hung up and called Witherspoon saying he was coming over to the school to speak with him. Witherspoon worried Graham was going to show up and “cause problems” at the school, so he called police.

When Hoffman met Witherspoon at the school, Witherspoon told him Graham had anger management problems and had completed anger management classes.

“Witherspoon advised that he is afraid of Russell Graham due to Mr. Graham appears that that he may go postal,” Hoffman said in the police report.

After speaking with Witherspoon and employees at the district office, Hoffman went to Graham’s home with several other officers around 5:30 p.m.

When they arrived, they met Graham’s wife who said Graham had not returned home for the evening. Officers looked for Graham in nearby neighborhoods and around 6:20 p.m., he was spotted returning home.

Hoffman approached Graham in his driveway and asked about phone calls to RCMS and the district office.

“Mr. Graham began to complain that the school district office was treating him poorly,” Hoffman said. Graham further said he had called the district office to learn the reason and status of his case. He denied making any threatening statements toward Witherspoon.

While Hoffman spoke with Graham in his driveway, he noticed Graham, “was going through mood swings.”

“First he was being very cooperative, then crying and was upset with the school board, school district office and the principal Mr. Witherspoon,” Hoffman said.

Eventually, Graham told police he may have threatened Witherspoon, but he could not remember. Around 6:35 p.m., Hoffman attempted to arrest Graham, at which time Graham asked Hoffman, “What are you doing?” and stiffened his arms.

Engler grabbed Graham’s left arm but Graham pulled away, striking Hoffman on the cheek with his fist.

As Hoffman and Engler attempted to restrain Graham, he kicked Lieutenant Don Garvin in the groin and then hit Hoffman three times in the torso.

During the struggle, officer Brandon Buckner pepper-sprayed Graham. However, Graham was able to break free and begin swinging.

Buckner then used a Taser to subdue Graham to the ground. Once on the ground, Graham was arrested and brought to the hospital to have the Taser probes removed.

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