Montville substitute teacher charged with supervising 'fight club'
Montville — State police have charged a former Montville High School substitute math teacher with supervising a "fight club" during school hours.
Ryan Avery Fish, 23, of Bozrah was charged Thursday on a warrant with two counts of risk of injury to a minor, second-degree breach of peace and four counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.
Officer Karen Moorehead, a school resource officer, wrote the arrest warrant affidavit. In it, she said Assistant Principal Tatiana Patten learned about the fights on Oct. 10 last year and immediately told Principal Jeffrey Theodoss about them. School officials fired Fish that day.
Moorehead said police learned of the incident 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 had been robbed and beaten by other Montville High School students.
In a meeting with police in December, Patten told officers of the suspected "fight club," noting multiple videos had surfaced of students "slap fighting each other in the middle of Mr. Fish's class," according to the affidavit.
She showed police cellphone videos of one of the fights, which involved “open hand strikes.” Moorehead wrote in the affidavit that the strikes appeared to be “full force.” In one of the videos, Moorehead wrote, Fish could be heard “saying something to the effect of, ‘Move this way, away from the door.’” Students could be seen “hooting and hollering” in the background.
Patten has been on leave since January pending separate investigations by the school district and police. Superintendent Brian Levesque said at the time that he placed her on leave in relation to an incident that led to the termination of a substitute teacher.
On Thursday, neither Levesque nor Montville police Lt. Leonard Bunnell would say whether the Patten investigations are connected to Fish's alleged actions.
Bunnell said the inquiry into Patten was ongoing but referred further questions to state police and the school district. State police referred to school administrators in response to a question about Patten.
Patten did not immediately respond to a voicemail.
Levesque said Patten was an active employee but did not discuss whether she still was under investigation. He added that the "safety of all of our students is always our highest priority."
Superintendent says he was unaware of more than one video
Gary Kleeblatt, spokesman for the state Department of Children and Families, noted 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."
Kleeblatt couldn't comment about the Montville case specifically. He noted that there were some "legitimate sports activities involving boxing with correct equipment and safety gear" but, when informed that Fish's alleged activities took place in math class, he said such activity "would definitely be of significant concern to us."
He added that DCF conducts "extensive training throughout the year with schools and others," so mandated reporters should know what constitutes a reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect.
In an interview Thursday evening, Levesque said on the day he terminated Fish, he was aware of only one incident that was caught on video.
He said due to privacy issues and the investigation, he could not describe in detail the incident he saw on video. He said what he saw warranted Fish's termination but not alerting authorities, especially because he "thought it was an isolated incident that didn't rise to that level."
"If I had known the severity of this and the number of instances ... we would have called police and DCF," he said. "But I only knew of the one incident. We terminated the person, so it seemed like it was over."
Levesque said he 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. Levesque said he couldn't comment regarding who was aware of the videos, who uploaded them or why he wasn't notified about them.
He added that DCF conducted its own review of the case in December.
Peter Yazbak, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said educators and administrators suspected of misconduct can be investigated by the department "to determine if possible licensure actions need to be taken."
In Fish's case, no such action is necessary because, as a substitute, he does not hold an educator's license, Yazbak said.
As for Patten, "any investigation by CSDE would depend on the outcome of the Montville district/police department's investigation," he said.
Police: Teacher on video encouraging fighting
As part of their investigation into Fish, police obtained a search warrant to access all relevant video clips that had been sent to school administrators. A trooper reviewed the footage and determined there had been two fights, each occurring on a separate day and each involving two teenagers. Both occurred about 1:50 p.m., and both were between students who didn’t appear to be evenly matched, police noted.
Police identified four juveniles — one 14-year-old boy, one 15-year-old boy and two 16-year-old boys — as victims. At least one of them was not a willing participant in the fights, police said, and at least three of them weren’t assigned to Fish’s classroom.
In the videos, the affidavit states, Fish can be seen encouraging the fighting. In one of the fights, police said, one of the two participants stopped fighting because he started throwing up. According to the affidavit, Fish tried to get the two to start fighting again after the victim stopped vomiting.
One of the victims told police that Fish additionally allowed students to draw lewd pictures on the board and encouraged them to add him on Snapchat.
Another victim said Fish “didn’t really set up the fights but he would watch them.”
A third victim described Fish as a mentor, police said.
In an interview with police, the affidavit states, Fish said he started teaching in August and had about 15 freshmen in his room. He told police the fights began in September as horseplay and became more serious, the affidavit states. Fish allegedly said he knew of four fights that had happened in his classroom.
Fish told police that he wanted his students to feel comfortable opening up to him. He also said he was “immature” and an “idiot” who wanted to befriend his students, according to the affidavit.
Fish was arraigned Thursday in Superior Court in Norwich. He was appointed a public defender. Judge Arthur C. Hadden ordered him released on a written promise to appear in court and scheduled his next court date for May 9.
Underground brawling groups were in part popularized by Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel, "Fight Club," followed by the 1999 film of the same name, directed by David Fincher.
Some parents on Facebook indicated they had heard students were slapboxing, which simulates boxing or sparring but involves open-hand slaps instead of fists.
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