McHenry assault case resolved

The 43-year-old Cortez Middle School teacher who was accused of punching a Montezuma County Sheriff's deputy during the Roatcap Fire on Oct. 24 has had his case resolved.

John McHenry, who is from Dolores, received what is called a deferred prosecution Wednesday afternoon in county court.

McHenry, flanked by numerous supporters, already had the felony charge of the case dismissed last week after District Attorney Will Furse made a motion to Montezuma County Judge Jennilynn Lawrence.

Lawrence had not seen the motion, but said she was granting it.

The charges that have been deferred are third-degree assault and resisting arrest.

The confrontation between McHenry and the deputy occurred when McHenry was trying to gain access to his property during the fire. He was told that he would not be allowed to go around the roadblock and that was when the incident occurred.

Under the disposition, McHenry must complete 24 hours of community service, 12 weeks of anger management while not committing a crime for the next six months. If successful, the remaining charges will be dismissed.

Under the deferred prosecution agreement, McHenry did not have to enter a guilty plea or give an admission of guilt.

Furse said the case involved a man who is a schoolteacher and a basketball coach, who is devoid of any other type of criminal activity.

Furse said McHenry's emotions got the better of him during the October fire, saying that a former home of McHenry's had previously burned during another fire, and that was his concern when he tried to return to his property.

"We owe it to the community to (let) them know if this was a misuse of power," Furse said of the incident, but quickly added he believed the deputy's actions were correct and justified.

He also said what should be taken into account was the deputy's emotional state of mind that day, when he had to tell a number of other frustrated property owners that they were not allowed to bypass the roadblock.

"The deputy exercised great judgement in talking (and calming) the crowd as they approached," Furse said.

Furse added that there needs to be a balance between McHenry's solid character and past experience of losing a home to a fire, and law enforcement's authority and role.

"He acknowledges his actions were regretful (and wrong)," Furse said, adding McHenry has shown a great deal of remorse since the incident.

The DA told the court that a conviction could jeopardize the teacher's career as an educator and believes McHenry deserves a second chance.

"Mr. McHenry is getting that second chance," Furse said, adding the anger management classes the teacher is taking were done on his own.

Furse said he had spoken to the sheriff's office and the deputy involved in the incident about the disposition he was going to recommend, reiterating that the deputy did not do anything improper.

McHenry, in a prepared written statement, apologized for his actions and said as a coach he stresses teamwork, but failed to put his faith in the team that was trying desperately to protect people while trying to save properties and homes.

McHenry said he is positive that if something similar were to occur in the future, he would react in an entirely different way.

"I am truly sorry (for my actions)," he said.