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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    DCF referred Montville 'fight club' case to prosecutors

    Montville — School officials' failure to alert authorities that a former substitute teacher allegedly supervised fights in math class last fall prompted the state Department of Children and Families to refer the case to prosecutors earlier this year.

    DCF sent the matter to the Chief State's Attorney's office in late December or early January, DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said Saturday morning.

    On Thursday, state police charged Ryan A. Fish, 23, of Bozrah with two counts of risk of injury to a minor, second-degree breach of peace and four counts of second-degree reckless endangerment. Police and school officials said Friday that no students have been charged in connection to the alleged fights.

    Fish was fired on Oct. 10 last year, according to Superintendent Brian Levesque and an arrest warrant affidavit written by Officer Karen Moorehead. No school officials contacted police or DCF about the incidents, which helped spark an inquiry by DCF in December and led to the referral to state prosecutors.

    "We have fully cooperated with both DCF and the state police in this matter," Levesque said by email Saturday.

    Levesque said Fish was fired for what he believed at the time to be a single incident involving students slapping each other in Fish’s class, which was caught on a cellphone video. While the activity warranted termination, it didn’t rise to the level that authorities needed to be contacted, Levesque said.

    "If I had known the severity of this and the number of instances ... we would have called police and DCF," he said in an interview this week. "But I only knew of the one incident. We terminated the person, so it seemed like it was over."

    Assistant Principal Tatiana Patten told Moorehead in December that on Oct. 10, she was made aware of a suspected “fight club” and noted multiple videos had surfaced of students “slap fighting each other in the middle of Mr. Fish’s class,” according to the affidavit.

    Moorehead only learned of the alleged incidents from a social worker who spends time at the Waterford Juvenile Matters Court. The social worker on Dec. 14 told police that a teenager, later identified as a victim in this case, said he’d been robbed and beaten by other Montville High School students.

    Mark Dupuis, a spokesman for the state Division of Criminal Justice, said in an interview Saturday that he could not comment on individual cases.

    “Any referral that we get, we review them and take action as appropriate,” he said. Asked about the steps taken following such referrals, he said, “It’s like any other investigation. We review what evidence we have and take it from there.”

    Kleeblatt said this week that under state law, teachers and administrators are mandated reporters who must alert DCF "when they have a suspicion that a child has been abused or neglected. It doesn't have to be a certainty, just a reasonable suspicion."

    Patten was placed on leave in January pending school and Montville Police Department investigations. Parents have said that she remains on leave, but neither Levesque nor police would discuss her status. Levesque said she remains “an active employee.”

    She did not immediately respond to a voicemail Saturday.

    Levesque recently said he'd learned of additional videos involving Fish and alleged fights in December, when police investigating the case asked him questions with details that did not match the video Levesque had seen in October.

    The district's information technology department then found additional videos uploaded to the district's servers, Levesque said. He said he couldn't comment regarding who was aware of the videos, who uploaded them or why he wasn't notified about them.


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