Case against Montville superintendent dropped; former sub must complete counseling

Montville — A judge on Tuesday made two key decisions in the classroom slapboxing case that rocked the community this spring, granting former high school substitute Ryan Fish's application for the state's accelerated rehabilitation program and dismissing the case against Superintendent Brian Levesque, one of three administrators charged in April with failing to report suspected abuse as a mandated reporter.

After months of continuances and talks between defense attorneys and prosecutors, Norwich Superior Court Judge Nuala Droney agreed to dismiss the charge against Levesque after noting she received letters of support for the superintendent and that he'd completed mandated reporter training in September.

Prosecutors did not object to the dismissal, which was requested by Levesque's attorney, Christian Sarantopoulos. Levesque and Sarantopoulos declined to comment on the case.

State police in April arrested Levesque, Principal Jeffrey Theodoss and Assistant Principal Tatiana Patten a week after Fish was accused of supervising multiple fights in his class last fall. While no student was seriously injured, police and prosecutors said the incidents led to one student receiving treatment in the hospital for significant mental health problems.

Droney previously agreed to dismiss the charge against Theodoss, who retired earlier this year. Patten is due back in court Monday, Oct. 29, and her attorney, Dado Coric, recently said the case soon would come to a resolution.

Patten remains on paid leave. Levesque's employment status was unclear as of Tuesday afternoon.

Like Theodoss, the school district placed Levesque on paid leave in April. But the Board of Education held a special meeting Monday evening, with executive session discussion and possible action regarding an "agreement between the Superintendent and the Board of Education pertaining to the Superintendent's employment contract."

Board of Education Chairman Bob Mitchell said he could not yet comment, deferring to Acting Superintendent Laurie Pallin. A voicemail and email left with Pallin were not immediately responded to Tuesday.

Levesque and Sarantopoulos said a press statement from the school district was likely, but they were unaware when such a statement would be released. A message left with Brian Doyle, Levesque's labor attorney, was not immediately returned.

School officials previously said Levesque was in the second year of a three-year contract with an annual salary of $178,231.

Attorney: Fish learned 'valuable lesson'

Fish, 23, who had no prior criminal record, recently applied for accelerated rehabilitation and has complied with required counseling, according to his attorney Paul Chinigo, prosecutors and Droney. He faced two counts of risk of injury to a minor, second-degree breach of peace and four counts of second-degree reckless endangerment

"While the allegations are very serious, they are not so serious in light of his age, his need for treatment, which he's taking seriously, and the regret expressed through his counsel," Droney said, deeming him unlikely to commit crimes in the future.

Prosecutors had no objection to Fish entering the two-year program, which requires him to undergo mental health treatment and complete 40 hours of community service, according to Droney.

No victims objected to Fish's acceptance into the program, according to prosecutors; Paul Costa, an attorney representing one of the victims, told Droney on Tuesday his client had no objection.

If he's successful in the program, the case against Fish will be dismissed on Oct. 23, 2020. If he's unsuccessful, the state can still prosecute the case; by entering the program, Fish agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial.

"You have to earn this dismissal with good conduct for two years," Droney told Fish from the bench. When she asked him if he understood, Fish said simply, "Yes, your honor."

Fish declined to comment outside the courtroom.

Chinigo said Fish was a new and inexperienced substitute who mistakenly befriended students, several of whom told police they considered him a mentor. Fish, Chinigo said, told supervisors he "can't handle the class. They asked him to stick it out."

Chinigo also said there were only two fighting incidents, one about 40 seconds and another that was shorter.

"He's learned a valuable lesson and has his whole life in front of him," Chinigo told the judge.

Levesque, who was adamant he was only aware of one incident, fired Fish in October a few days after receiving emails with cellphone video footage of one of the fights. Students involved were disciplined, according to school officials and attorneys.

Levesque placed Patten on leave in January, alleging she failed to handle the slapboxing matter in a timely fashion. But after investigations by the Department of Children and Families and the State's Attorney's office, authorities said all three administrators should have contacted police or DCF when they became of aware of the classroom incidents.

The matter led to multiple staff shakeups for the school district and greater emphasis by school leaders on mandated reporter training.

b.kail@theday.com

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