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Final Montville 'fight club' criminal case resolved

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Norwich — A judge on Monday granted a request for accelerated rehabilitation for Montville High School Assistant Principal Tatiana Patten, the last administrator facing charges in the classroom slapboxing case that rocked the community in 2018.

Norwich Superior Court Judge Nuala Droney accepted Patten's recent application for the program, which is made available by the state to first-time offenders deemed unlikely to break the law, Patten's attorney Dado Coric said in an interview Tuesday.

The probationary period will last three months and if Patten does "not violate the laws of Connecticut or the United States," the charge of failure to report suspected abuse as a mandated reporter will be dropped by Dec. 6, 2019, Coric said.

Patten, along with former Superintendent Brian Levesque and former Principal Jeffrey Theodoss, faced charges for allegedly failing to alert police or the state Department of Children and Families after learning that substitute teacher Ryan Fish supervised multiple classroom slapboxing bouts in the fall of 2017.

While the other cases were resolved last year, Patten's continued to be pushed on a nearly monthly basis as attorneys negotiated.

"Obviously, she's glad to put this behind her and be moving on and getting on with her career," Coric said. "She'd like to get back to work and it's up to the Board of Education as to what to do next."

Patten has remained on paid leave since January 2018, almost four months before state police charged the three administrators. Her salary is $129,666, according to school officials. She previously argued that administrators tried to oust her in alleged sexist scapegoating.

Messages left with Patten and Board of Education Chairman Bob Mitchell were not immediately returned.

Coric and attorneys for the other administrators maintained their clients handled the alleged "fight club" situation properly. Levesque fired Fish four days after receiving an email containing videos of a fight, and the students who fought, and filmed the incidents, were disciplined.

State police charged Fish with two counts of risk of injury to a minor, second-degree breach of peace and four counts of second-degree reckless endangerment. Fish had no prior criminal record and Droney granted his accelerated rehabilitation request last year.

Levesque, who said he didn't involve authorities because he was only aware of one incident and fired Fish swiftly, negotiated a severance package worth more than $230,000 and resigned from the school district in October 2018. His criminal charge was dismissed.

Theodoss retired ahead of schedule in August 2018, and the state didn't prosecute the criminal charge against him.

Police only became aware of the fights in December 2018, when a DCF social worker told them a 15-year-old student had reported being assaulted by three students during school. A mobile crisis worker assisted the teenager and Montville police Officer Karen Moorehead went to the emergency room to investigate. Moorehead, through subsequent investigation, obtained multiple video recordings of fights that had taken place in Fish's classroom.

DCF referred the case to the Chief State's Attorney's Office in late December 2018.

Emails obtained by The Day showed the administrators worked to find out who was involved and punish those responsible but decided not to contact authorities. School records also showed the district may not have followed proper policies for substitute teacher hiring when they hired Fish in 2017.

The incident gained national media attention, sparked staffing shakeups and greater emphasis on mandated reporter training. DCF later noted "a significant increase" in calls from school districts and other mandated reporters of suspected abuse or neglect of minors in the wake of the Montville case and investigations into Anthony Facchini, a Norwich Free Academy former assistant coach charged with second-degree sexual assault in September 2018.

Sarah Eagan, the state child advocate, has since investigated school districts, including New London and Stonington, in cases involving questions or charges related to mandated reporting.

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