Former Winston-Salem teacher convicted of threatening staff
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal) — A former Winston-Salem teacher who also ran twice unsuccessfully for the N.C. House was found guilty of telling two school employees over the phone that she was going to shoot people at the school administrative office, leading to a brief lockdown in March.
Forsyth District Judge Laurie Hutchins found Cristina Vazquez, 55, guilty of two counts of communicating threats after a brief trial Friday morning. The charge of communicating threats is a Class 1 misdemeanor and Vazquez has no previous criminal record. Because of that, Hutchins could not give Vazquez an active jail sentence.
Hutchins suspended two sentences of 45 days in jail and placed Vazquez on probation for one year. Hutchins ordered Vazquez to have a mental-health assessment and follow the assessment’s recommendations. She also ordered Vazquez not to go on school property or have any contact with school employees. Vazquez also must take anger-management classes, Hutchins said.
During the trial, Pamela Hensdale, the district’s Human Resources manager, and Connie Adams, a receptionist who works in the school’s administrative offices, testified that a woman identifying herself as Cristina Vazquez threatened on March 22 that she would come to the office and shoot people.
Vazquez had applied to be a substitute teacher and had paid a $25 application fee. She also had attended an orientation for substitute teachers, but the school system withdrew its offer of employment after discovering that Vazquez had omitted her previous employment with the district on her substitute teacher application.
Hensdale said she sent Vazquez a letter informing her of the school system’s decision and offering to refund the application fee. She testified that Vazquez called Hensdale on March 22 about picking up the $25 check and then quickly became irate during a conversation that lasted about two minutes. She said Vazquez told her that a security guard at the office better put on a bulletproof vest.
“I’m a crazy woman with a gun and I will come there and shoot you,” Hensdale said the woman told her.
Hensdale said after the phone call she told her supervisor, David Fairall. Around the same time, Adams received a call from a woman identifying herself as Vazquez. That woman told Adams that she was coming there to shoot people and specifically said she would shoot Adams. Vazquez indicated that she knew where Adams sat in the office, Adams testified.
The administrative office at 475 Corporate Drive was locked down starting at 3:15 p.m. Employees were allowed to leave around 4:30 p.m.
Vazquez testified Friday that she didn’t threaten anyone.
“I have never owned a gun and I never said I would shoot anyone,” she said.
She also accused school officials of lying and trying to discredit her.
Assistant District Attorney Aaron Berlin questioned her about statements she made to the Winston-Salem Journal on the same day that she was alleged to have made the threats.
Vazquez had come to the Journal’s newsroom and told a reporter that she had talked with a school office receptionist about picking up a $25 check and that she joked that employees should be wearing protective vests. She told the Journal that she didn’t mean it as a serious threat.
Under cross-examination by Berlin, she acknowledged that she was upset with the school system over how she left her job as a full-time teacher. According to files Vazquez earlier gave the Journal, she received several unfavorable reviews and was twice suspended for mishandling students.
She testified Friday she believed that the school system never had any intention of hiring her as a substitute teacher and that school officials were trying to discredit her.
Artrese Ziglar, Vazquez’s attorney, said that Vazquez has faced financial difficulties and has had a hard time trying to find another job. The stress of all that has led to some mental disability on the part of Vazquez, she said.
After she was sentenced, Vazquez gave a thumbs-up sign to Hensdale, Adams and other people who testified for prosecutors. Hutchins told her to calm down.
“Look, they’re smiling now,” Vazquez replied.