Fresno Unified School Board candidate Andrew Doris tried to deflect a possible setback in his campaign by being the first to bring up a drug charge from his past.
He downplayed his tangle with the law almost 16 years ago, saying at a news conference Monday that the methamphetamine police found in his car belonged to a former colleague with a drug problem.
Doris, a business consultant challenging incumbent Carol Mills in the race for District 5, was arrested in 1996 for meth possession. The felony charge was dismissed after he completed a drug-diversion program. Doris was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he was arrested, police records show.
"I have never had any problems with drugs before or since," Doris said. "It was something I put behind me years ago."
But now the arrest has resurfaced, just as campaigns are heating up for the November elections. Doris is endorsed by the Fresno Teachers Association and is an outspoken critic of Superintendent Michael Hanson. Mills is often viewed as a vigilant Hanson supporter and is opposed by some union leaders.
Doris blames his opponent for dredging up the incident in an attempt to "smear my reputation and drive me out of the race," he said. He said Mills had encouraged background checks for all school board candidates, which he took as a personal threat.
Mills said she was aware of the meth charge but never has brought it up in public. She said she has limited information about the incident and isn't sure whether she will comment on it during her campaign.
Records obtained by The Bee show that Doris was arrested Nov. 16, 1996, in northwest Fresno after police discovered meth in his car. He was 32 at the time.
Doris said the drugs were left in his car after he drove his former colleague to a house in Pinedale. Doris said police were conducting surveillance on the residence -- a drug house, he called it -- and officers stopped him for expired vehicle registration tags.
"They wanted to look inside the car. I told them no problem," Doris said in a written statement. "I had nothing to hide. On the passenger side of the car, unknown to me, was a small sealed bag of amphetamines. The drugs did not belong to me. They were left behind by this former co-worker."
Doris declined to name the co-worker or say where they had worked together. He said they had not worked together for about two years before the arrest, and he could not recall how they got back in touch.
Following the advice of several attorneys, Doris said he chose not to fight the charges and submitted to a court-ordered diversion program, which included drug testing and rehab meetings three times a week. Doris completed the program by August 1997.
Lucky Baltierra, the deputy probation officer who handled the case, said most drug offenders take much longer to complete the diversion program -- generally 18 to 24 months. Doris likely finished so quickly because all his drug tests came back negative, Baltierra said.
Baltierra, who helped start Fresno County's drug court in the 1990s and now works as a private investigator, said the judge often hit offenders with a heavy-duty regimen of testing. Once the court was certain he didn't have a drug problem, Doris probably was able to leave the program early.
Even if the drugs weren't his, Baltierra said, Doris still is responsible for everything in his car. Police did not charge Doris with drug trafficking or intent to sell, so likely he had a small amount, Baltierra said.
Doris said he never tried to duck his responsibilities: "I didn't cry bad luck. I didn't try to avoid it. I faced it and moved on."
The charge was dismissed, but it never was erased from his record.
Teachers union President Eva Ruiz said Monday that the FTA did not know about the arrest before endorsing Doris and would soon meet with the candidate to discuss it. The FTA political action committee can vote to revoke the endorsement.
Also competing for District 5, which includes Fresno High School, is Nicholas Montoya, a case manager.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, email@example.com or @heathersomervil on Twitter.