HARTFORD — A former Connecticut high school football coach fired amid allegations that he was abusive toward players has filed a defamation lawsuit.
The suit filed by former Bulkeley High School coach Pablo Ortiz against Hartford’s superintendent of schools Leslie Torres-Rodriguez seeks damages and reinstatement as football coach.
His attorney Peter Finch said that Ortiz’s firing earlier this year has hurt his reputation and hindered him from getting any new coaching opportunities.
“With this lawsuit we hope to mend that reputation,” Finch said. “Hopefully he can find more opportunities out there being a mentor to children coaching football.”
The allegations that led to Ortiz’s removal from Hartford Schools were unsubstantiated claims that he was verbally abusive and once slammed a student to the ground while breaking up a fight.
He told FOX61 he was stunned by the allegations and would never put his hands on a football player.
“The only time I put my hands on a player was to shake his hand, give him a hug at the end of practice, when I gave him a bus pass to go home and a snack,” Ortiz said. “I was a surrogate parent to these kids because I knew some of the parents were working two jobs, so it was important for me that they were getting fed, doing well in the classroom, and they were getting home safe.”
Ortiz is also a long-time social worker for the state Department of Children and Families and was accused of speaking about children in the DCF system while on the football field, breaking confidentiality regulations. This launched an investigation by DCF which concluded no violations of policy occurred, clearing his name.
Ortiz is still employed by DCF.
According to the same DCF report, the Hartford BOE said it would not be conducting its own investigation because, “they have not had previous issues or concerns with the coach.”
Ortiz was a coach at his alma mater Bulkeley High School for six years. Prior to that position, Ortiz coached at another school in the district.
“That was a goal of mine, to go to Bulkeley, be there and help the city kids that are at that school, as I grew up, to be good productive citizens in the community,” he said. “It meant everything to me, this was devastating.”
The lawsuit against Torres-Rodriguez claims that prior to getting any investigation results, she put out statements to the press suggesting Ortiz had, “threatened student safety, acted inappropriately, and had engaged in “abuse” and “neglect.”
At the time, the CT Office of Child Advocate released an unrelated report revealing that Hartford Public Schools have failed to respond to child abuse and neglect allegations for several years. Torres-Rodriguez was acting superintendent.
Finch said he feels she took advantage of the allegations against Ortiz to take her beyond just a contender for the Superintendent position.
“It's unfortunate that an ambitious person like the superintendent used him as pretty much the poster child of all the unreported allegations of child abuse within the Hartford school system and found it as an opportunity to catapult herself into this permanent position,” Finch said.
A city schools spokesman said the superintendent had no comment on the suit.
Ortiz said he would like to coach again but is moving forward from Bulkeley.