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Emery County principal on leave after prosecutors file domestic violence charges

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14 2014 7:25 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, Aug. 14 2014 11:10 p.m. MDT

CASTLE DALE — Emery County prosecutors have filed misdemeanor charges against Dennis Clell Jones, the principal at Cottonwood Elementary School in Orangeville, following an apparent domestic dispute between Jones and his wife.

Jones, 63, was charged Thursday in 7th District Court with possession of a dangerous weapon with intent to commit an assault, a class A misdemeanor, and assault, a class B misdemeanor.

The charges stem from a confrontation between the Joneses that began in private but quickly became public, according to an Emery County Sheriff's Office report obtained Thursday through a public records request.

On Aug. 6, deputies were dispatched to the intersection of Center and Main streets in Orangeville after residents in the area called 911 to report "an active fight" between a man and a woman, the sheriff's report states.

Sheli McCullough, who lives in an apartment at 10 S. Main, said it was the sound of tires squealing in the intersection that brought her and her daughter outside that night. McCullough said she saw a man walk from a pickup truck to a woman's car, pull the car door open and take the woman's purse.

"I threatened to beat him half to death with an aluminum baseball bat," McCullough said Thursday. "I was going to hurt him, honest to God, based on what I saw. I was worried he was going to kill her."

The man, later identified as Jones, quickly left in the pickup truck, McCullough said. The first deputy to reach the scene found McCullough sitting on the curb next to the woman from the car, later identified as Jones' wife.

"Just then, a black Chevy truck came east on Center and turned onto Main Street and parked in front of my patrol car," the deputy wrote. "Both women immediately became frantic and stated that the man in the truck had a gun."

The deputy recognized Jones, who immediately raised his hands when ordered to do so. A subsequent search of Jones' body and his truck did not turn up a gun, according to the deputy's report.

Deputies interviewed Jones and his wife once the situation at the intersection was under control. The couple told investigators they had argued at their home after Jones told his wife he believed she was having an extramarital affair, the sheriff's report states.

During the argument, Jones' wife said, her husband threw furniture around and brandished a 9 mm handgun, threatening to shoot the man he believed she was seeing. The woman told investigators she left the house at that point, got in her car and drove off to warn the other man.

Jones told deputies he took his wife's cellphone after showing her the gun, so she couldn't call anyone while he went to put the weapon away, the sheriff's report states. When he returned to the room where he had left her, he said, his wife was gone.

"Dennis chased after her and blocked her car at the intersection of Main and Center," the sheriff's report states, noting that deputies determined Jones was "the predominant aggressor in the altercation" based on statements from Jones, his wife and other witnesses.

Jones was booked into the Emery County Jail but posted bail and was released.

Emery County Schools Superintendent Kirk Sitterud said Jones — who has spent 17 of his 31 years with the school district as the principal at Cottonwood Elementary — has been allowed to get the school and its faculty ready for the new academic year, despite the pending charges.

Jones will go on paid administrative leave Monday, the superintendent said, one day before students return for the new school year.

"These charges and accusations are for conduct outside of his employment with the district, and the district has no information (other) than that provided by the county attorney’s office," Sitterud said in a statement. "The school district is cooperating fully with the attorney's office in their investigation."

Defense attorney Robert Oliver declined to comment on the allegations against Jones beyond saying the public should remember that his client is presumed innocent by law. Jones' first court appearance is set for Sept. 16.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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