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A pharmacist fills a prescription at a Racine pharmacy. A mistake in filling a prescription at a Burlington pharmacy led to criminal charges for the man who received the narcotics. / Mark Hertzberg / Journal Times file photo

CITY OF BURLINGTON — What started with a pharmacy mistakenly giving a customer a prescription it shouldn’t have has turned into an almost year-long odyssey through the criminal justice system for an elderly Burlington couple.

Retired Army veteran Robert Cirpinski, 82, said the main question he has is why the pharmacist filled his prescription for hydrocodone along with the new medication prescribed by his doctor. If that hadn’t happened, he and his wife might not have tangled with Racine County’s legal system.

“When I read all these (police) reports I actually laughed at them. I told my wife these were good for a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit,” said Cirpinski.

But it would be funnier if the Jan. 8, 2013, incident hadn’t happened to them. Cirpinski was charged on Feb. 25 of last year with possession of narcotic drugs, misdemeanor theft and resisting an officer, a felony and two misdemeanors.

He’s had a history of stomach and abdominal problems, including a hernia, said Cirpinski, who retired from American Roller in Union Grove more than 17 years ago. He had his appendix out, but said he experienced complications from a suture that didn’t remain tied.

In pain over the years, his doctors tried different medications, he explained. His doctor at the pain clinic put him on hydrocodone, Cirpinski said.

Last year in January, he said his doctor decided to try something new.

Cirpinski said staff at the doctor’s office told the Pharmacy Station staff not to fill the hydrocodone just now.

“The pain clinic called me and said there’s a prescription over there to be picked up in an hour or so,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling so good so I sent my wife over. I said I only had one prescription. The clerk behind the counter said (to his wife) ‘no, you have two.’ ”

The pharmacy clerk told Beverly Cirpinski the new, non-narcotic cost $6 and the other — for hydrocodone — was $45, he said. But that posed a problem.

The pharmacist “said she’d call the company to see if they could reduce (the hydrocodone’s cost) because my wife only had $30. They reduced it to $23,” Robert Cirpinski explained.

And when his wife came home from the Burlington pharmacy with both prescriptions, “I said ‘that’s not right.’ ” But he staunchly maintains he never opened the hydrocodone bottle.

“I thought I’d just keep the hydrocodone a couple days and see how the new prescription worked,” he said.

But about 30 minutes later, the pharmacist called his home, he said. She also called City of Burlington police.

During Robert Cirpinski’s March 21 preliminary hearing, Police Officer Rachel Seils testified that Cirpinski admitted to both receiving the prescription and knowing he shouldn’t have it. And when police checked the bottle, six pills were missing, Seils testified during that hearing.

Cirpinski said “She (the pharmacist) short-counted” — giving him fewer pills.

Seils said she began pleading with Cirpinski inside his home to return the medication because she didn’t want to have to handcuff him, the complaint states. But he continued to argue with her. When police tried to handcuff him, Cirpinski pulled back, walked away and leaned over a recliner, the complaint stated.

That’s when his wife walked into the room, toward the officers. Seils had to stop trying to handcuff Robert Cirpinski “and begin to handle Beverly” Cirpinski, 75. He said his wife was thrown onto their couch, with the officer’s knee in her back.

Once officers explained they only needed her husband’s pills, she found them and gave them to Seils.

Prosecutors on May 23 charged Beverly Cirpinski with obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor. They dropped that charge in October.

Attempts were made to contact the Pharmacy Station owner, pharmacist Steven Spitzer, but those proved unsuccessful.

In an email to The Journal Times, Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete said: “Given that the case is charged and scheduled for trial, it would be unethical for me to ‘try this case in the media.’ ”

Robert Cirpinski said he would have turned over the hydrocodone, if the officers would have agreed to one thing.

“I said ‘you can have it if you sign for it.’ Not that you’re not trustworthy, but it’s a drug. He (the officer) said ‘I don’t sign for anything.’ ”

Robert Cirpinski’s trial is scheduled for April 15.

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