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State's attorney won't bring charges in racist slur incident at Ledyard High basketball game

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Ledyard — The New London State's Attorney's Office has found there is "insufficient evidence" to charge adult spectators from Bacon Academy in Colchester who allegedly directed racist slurs towards girls' basketball players from Ledyard High School after a Feb. 5 game. 

On Monday, New London State's Attorney Paul Narducci said: "Our offices did review all the information and requested an additional investigation, but based on the additional investigation, we did not feel that we could prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt and as a result there was insufficient evidence to go forward with the criminal prosecution."

"We didn't feel we could establish that the comments were directed at any one individual nor did we think we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt who uttered the comment," he said.

Narducci stressed that the use of such language is "abhorrent in any context."

In the days after the game, superintendents from both school systems said their investigations found that Bacon Academy parents directed racist slurs and taunts at the players. Some adult Bacon Academy spectators were also banned from Ledyard Public Schools facilities.

"Whether criminal charges are filed or not, it doesn't excuse the horrible behavior and impact it had on our students and our community," Ledyard Superintendent Jason Hartling said Monday in response to the state's attorney's decision.

Ledyard police said in a news release Monday that they were dispatched to the high school at 7:39 p.m. Feb. 5 for a reported disturbance in which parents from Ledyard and parents from Colchester were arguing and some parties were refusing to leave the gym after the girls' varsity basketball game.

Police said they ensured that all attendees were able to leave the school safely and learned that either during or after the game, someone allegedly used a racist slur. The report was made to Ledyard High School's athletic director.

Police said they conducted interviews, reviewed video, and worked with Ledyard High School administrators. Police then worked with the State's Attorney's Office in New London, which also conducted interviews, reviewed video and an arrest warrant affidavit.

The State's Attorney's Office "determined that there was insufficient probable cause in this case," police said. Probable cause means there is sufficient evidence to believe a crime has been committed.

A statement, signed on May 11 by David Smith, supervisory assistant state's attorney for G.A. 10, said:

"The state will refuse this warrant. While it appears to be clear that parents associated with rival school used a racial slur at the conclusion of a girls basketball game; there is no indication that it was directed at any specific person. There appears to be indication that the word was used in a conversation "between people."

It continued, "While the use of racially offensive language is abhorrent in any context, and certainly reflects on the character of the person uttering the word, it is protected speech. Finally, within the context of this case, the state would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm; or recklessly created a risk thereof." 

Former Colchester Superintendent Jeffrey Burt said soon after the game that: "Following our investigation into allegations of offensive comments and negative behavior by Bacon Academy parents, we believe this behavior did take place and included racial taunts by some adults aimed at opposing youth players."

In a later statement, Burt said that after conducting preliminary investigations, "There is no evidence that any member of the Bacon Academy girls basketball team, nor any member of its coaching staff, made any racist comments before, during, or after the game," and no evidence that any other person made any racist comments during the game.

Hartling said in February that the Ledyard School district found that, "At the conclusion of the game, while our team was leaving the court, an adult spectator from Bacon Academy referred to our players using a racially inflammatory term, (n-words)."

Hartling said, "This statement was heard by a member of our team and was immediately reported. Multiple interviews were conducted, and we have no reason to call into question what our student experienced."

Colchester First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos said Monday that "the bottom line here is that insufficient and unsubstantiated alleged evidence was used to paint parents and a community as racist, and it's absolutely disgusting and deplorable."

Bisbikos said that when he asked the Ledyard superintendent to provide evidence, he refused to do so and the Ledyard superintendent owes the town of Colchester, public school system, accused parents and their children an apology: "We need to remind ourselves that in this country we're innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around," Bisbikos said.

Hartling said: "The first selectman has never called, emailed or made any attempt to speak with me whatsoever."

He encouraged Bisbikos to read the statement from the State's Attorney's Office.

On Monday the Ledyard school system posted a message on its Facebook page about the State's Attorney's decision.

In part it read, "The lack of criminal charges in this case does not excuse the disgusting language and the impact it had on our students and communities. While the State's Attorney's Office did not believe the hateful language was "directed at any specific person" or intended to create a disruption, they share our perspective that using hate speech is not acceptable."

It concluded by saying the school system "strongly admonishes racist and hateful language and behaviors. We concluded our administrative investigation several months ago, detailing the incidents at the girls' basketball game. While we now know those responsible will not be held criminally liable, the findings remain as previously reported. Those who behave in a manner not aligned with our values will not be permitted to attend events at our schools. Our players, students and communities deserve a place free of hate. Ledyard Public Schools stands with our community against the use of racist and discriminatory language and behavior. If we have any hope of eliminating such derogatory terms and behavior in our society, we must begin in our homes and our schools."

k.drelich@theday.com

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