A former substitute teacher at an southeastern Connecticut high school has been arrested after a state police investigation into reports of a “fight club” in a classroom and police said he encouraged the fighting.
Former Montville High School substitute Ryan Fish has been charged with two counts of risk of injury to a child, four counts of second-degree reckless endangerment and breach of peace.
Outside court Thursday, the 23-year-old from Bozrah maintained that he didn’t facilitate the fights and said he didn't know they were about to happen before they started.
"I didn't necessarily let them do it. I just wasn't aware of what to do. I didn't know how to handle the situation," Fish said.
State police launched the investigation on Dec. 14 after a Department of Children and Families social worker contacted them about a 15-year-old boy having symptoms of being traumatized, He told the social worker that other students at Montville High School had robbed and beaten him, according to police.
Investigators spoke with school officials the next day and learned Fish’s employment had been terminated on Oct. 10 after school leaders were made aware about a “fight club” in a math classroom where Fish was a substitute teacher and that several videos had surfaced, according to the arrest warrant application.
Fish started working in the school district in March 2017.
“As soon as we learned of his involvement in this, we immediately terminated his employment. Student safety is our highest priority each and every day. We believe our staff does a great job of protecting the safety of our students each and every day. This situation was very unfortunate, but not indicative of our regular operations,” Supt. Brian Levesque said in a statement.
Police viewed the videos and the arrest warrant application says Fish is heard giving directions to the students who were fighting and encouraging them to continue fighting. He was also seen moving a trash can out of the way to allow the fight to continue.
The videos also showed what appeared to be one of the students throwing up in a garbage can.
Police interviewed the victims and a 14-year-old boy reported that Fish started one fight by saying, “One, two, three” and the fight continued until a 16-year-old boy was throwing up. Then, Fish tried to start the fight again, saying “Round two,” but the bell rang, according to state police documents.
The 16-year-old told police that Fish was a mentor to him and that he and the person he fought did not do it out of anger, but to establish “dominance,” according to state police. He went on to say that he did not think Fish did anything wrong.
Police then spoke with Fish.
He said he knew what he did was wrong and should have reported it to administration, the state police report says.
“I just try to be the teacher that the kids could come to and actually express themselves and actually work through their issues, kind of have a social thing,” Fish said, according to the arrest warrant application.
Fish, who was 22 at the time of the alleged incidents, added that he let the students be teenagers and get their energy out and admitted to egging them on at one point, according to police.
In all, there were four fights between September and October, Fish told police.
He said he originally thought the incidents were just horseplay, but it looked like the kids were actually fighting during the last incident and thought it needed to stop because it had gone too far.
“The truth is, I’m an idiot and wanted to befriend them,” he told investigators, according to police documents. He added that he and the students are close in age and said “I’m immature.”
When Fish appeared in court Thursday, a public defender entered a plea of not guilty.
Outside court, he said he is sorry.
“I am so sorry, because I’ll be totally honest, I was trying to reach the kids. I thought these kids are just being rambunctious, I thought they just needed an out. If I had known what it was doing to the kids I would have done something completely different. I would have gotten out of that situation immediately, but I thought I was reaching those kids in some way,” Fish said. “I really did and I thought that that would help me get to them. But, I didn’t realize what was happening at the time. I didn’t know. I didn’t have the training to see what was going on. I am just so sorry.”
The judge said the allegations are “disturbing to say the least.”
Bond for Fish was initially set at $75,000 and he was released on a promise to appear.
He is getting treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and was ordered not to be employed in the supervision of minors.