A teen's suicide and a football coach in Portsmouth, R.I.

  Student-created mural at Portsmouth High School.

Student-created mural at Portsmouth High School.

Here’s the executive summary of a report, by lawyer Matthew T. Oliverio, on the death by suicide of 15-year-old Nathan Richard Bruno, a student at Portsmouth High School. The Newport Daily News continues to press for more information on this case.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


A. Scope of Assignment

 

At the direction of the Portsmouth School Committee, I have investigated the facts and circumstances relating to a complaint filed by Richard Bruno, parent of the late sophomore NB. In summary, Mr. Bruno contends that Head Football Coach Ryan Moniz, and others, intentionally or unintentionally placed an undue amount of mental and emotional stress upon his son in the weeks and days leading up to his tragic death causing the 15-year-old NB to feel isolated, shamed and bullied to the point where his only escape from the pressure was to end his life on February 7, 2018.

 

The  scope of my investigation  was to determine if any teacher, coach, staff member or member of the administration violated any current policies, procedures and protocols  in their interactions with NB, and in  particular those interactions with NB once it was determined that he was involved in a pattern of harassing conduct directed toward Coach Moniz. My assignment was not to determine the cause of NB's death, although officially it has been ruled a suicide. I have interviewed 36 individuals; other individuals  had been contacted  for information, but for reasons undisclosed refused to speak with me or never returned my call to schedule an appointment. Many of those interviewed were friends or acquaintances of NB, and some of them are members of the high school football team. In all cases, I insisted on meeting or speaking with the minor students in the presence of their guardian or parent. My investigation also consisted of reviewing memos, numerous, relevant email communications, text messages, Codes of Conduct, Student Athlete Handbook, Superintendent interview summaries, letters of complaint regarding Coach Moniz, letters of support regarding Coach Moniz, Professional Development summaries, school district policies, performance evaluation forms, educational records and autopsy report.

 

A consistent theme expressed by parents of students whom I interviewed was a concern that their participation could lead to retaliatory measures or adverse actions against their child by a coach, the football community or anyone else affiliated with the athletic program. I assured them that by participating in this investigation, it would  be against the law for the school district or any elected or appointed town official or its agents to retaliate in any form. Accordingly, this summary and my comprehensive Confidential Report come with the firm admonition that no retaliatory measure can be taken for one's participation in this investigation .

 

B. Summary of Findings and Analysis

 

Another common theme emerged among the individuals  l interviewed: Coach Moniz can be a polarizing figure. He is either revered, primarily by the supporters of the "Gridiron Club" or he is despised and loathed. Many of the parents/grandparents I interviewed expressed that the coach could  be vulgar and abusive at games, disrespectful, over aggressive in language and demeanor, and  unwittingly engaged in bullying-type behavior. ln other words,  some of these parents find that the coach takes advantage of his position of authority over these adolescents to drive  a wedge between various players and to belittle or demean the less talented students or those who do not show the same level of commitment that others possess. What may be construed as motivational behavior on the part of the coach is really controlling, egotistical, manipulative behavior. The  supporters  of the Portsmouth  Gridiron  Club, and particularly a football family who was willing to be interviewed, tell a different story. They find the coach to be totally selfless, demonstrating an unwavering commitment and devotion to all players and the football program in general. "Coach Moniz exhibits the type of motivation, knowledge and leadership qualities that make our program the envy of all others around the state."

 

The Coaches' Code of Conduct is not merely an aspiration, it is a pact between a coach and the players over whom he/she has responsibility and authority, the players' families and the community as a whole. It is not to be taken lightly or used to manipulate a player(s) or to compel adverse behavior to serve the self-interests of a coach. Some of the more relevant provisions include:

"Teachers have a duty to assure that their sports programs promote important life skills and the development of good character....’’

 

COMMUNITY — In our PHS Community our coaches will:

 

•    Be worthy of trust........... and teach student-athletes the importance of integrity, honesty, reliability and loyalty.


•    Model good character.

 

•    Promote sportsmanship not gamesmanship.

 


ACHIEVEMENT  — in order for our student-athletes to achieve our coaches will:

 

                                     
 

Be a worthy role-model.

  

•    Strive to provide a challenging, safe, enjoyable, and successful experiences for the athletes.

 

 

RESPECT — Coaches will:

 

•    Treat all people................ with respect all the time and require the same of student-athletes.

 

•     Be a good sport, teach and model class.

  

•    Use positive coaching methods to make the experience enjoyable, increase self-esteem and foster a love and appreciation for the sport.

 

EXCELLENCE — In order for our student-athlete to excel our coaches will:

  

•    Teach student-athletes positive life skills and always strive to enhance their physical, mental, social, and moral development.

  

SUCCESS  — Our student-athletes will have  success as our  coaches:

  

•    Enforce the guidelines set forth by RIIL regulations and the PHS Student-Athlete Handbook including this Code of Conduct and adhering to the levels of play consistently in all activities and venues even when the consequences are high.

 

•    Assure that student-athletes understand that participation  in interscholastic sports programs  is a privilege, not a right and that they are expected to represent their school, team, and teammates with honor, on and off the field.

 

•    Require student-athletes to consistently exhibit good character and conduct themselves as positive role models.


 

Based on the content of the text messages received by Coach Moniz, he believed that a former player was responsible for the inappropriate conduct directed toward him in the form of incessant, harassing phone calls and text messages at night. He had a natural curiosity to ascertain the identity of the individual. Despite the fact that he was aware in early January that NB was the primary culprit (by rumor and by police investigation), he opted to pursue another avenue for outing any other offenders - enlist the services of the existing team players. He wanted to quash any dissension existing among the football players and believed he was justified in doing so under the mantra of"integrity, trust, honesty, reliability and loyalty." He pursued this by calling a meeting on January 10 during which he alerted his team to his personal situation and asked that the team inform him of any knowledge they may have about the prank calls. Accordingly, I find his team meeting held on January 10, although somewhat self-centered, exaggerated and immature by certain players' accounts, did not offend the Coaches Code of Conduct or any other policy.

It was only after the NB came forward to accept responsibility and agreed to apologize on February 2, 2018 where the coach's conduct turned suspect and violated aspects of the Code. First, his text messages by and between Mr. Bruno are most revealing: after having agreed to meet with NB and his father to accept an apology and move forward, on February 6 he reversed course and outright refused to meet with NB and his father unless "NB...provides me with the other two names involved ...provides me with the other two names involved."

 

“Sorry about the delay. Detective Carlino has reached out to me and told me, like you did, there  were  two  others involved. Unexpectedly, he also told me that two others were current  members  of our  football  team.  In all honesty, I'm shocked, disappointed, and hurt by this. I put my full effort  in  building  our  program  which  above all else, including providing a positive outlet and to build character in the process. I have never had any issues like this in 8 seasons as the head coach. I need all of the information so I can assess how to move forward from this. I can't move forward without this information. In light of this, I am only agreeing to meet with NB if he provides me the other two names involved.

Thank you, Ryan Moniz.’’ (Emphasis added.)

This simple highlighted statement, tantamount to a threat, unwittingly placed pressure on a father to urge his son "rat out" friends, a person who was trying to do the right thing by coach and son, namely have his son take responsibility, apologize and serve his penance. More importantly, this statement underscores the immaturity of a 39-year-old adult, charged with exhibiting a good example as a role model. Coach Moniz  utterly failed in this regard. He knew or should have known that such a threat would have placed a 15-year old adolescent in a compromised or vulnerable position to be disloyal to his friends. In so doing the coach was not  a worthy role­ model and did not enhance NB's physical, mental or social well being and development. Although Coach Moniz professes that no one is at fault, nor could anyone have foreseen these tragic consequences, it cannot be overemphasized that Coach  Moniz was cognizant of the influence he had over NB and  the pressure  that would befall him. Although he denied it, his email communications to NB's father reveal otherwise: "I called for a team meeting after school today. Sorry to put NB and the other two on the clock but this is how I am choosing togo forward with it." (Emphasis added.) This statement exhibits a knowing indifference to the impact that such a and threatening message can have on an adolescent. It clearly implies that NB and two others will be shunned or isolated, unless NB comes forward. To alert NB and his father that all such information will now be shared with many other friends, students and athletes pits NB against his peers. Clearly, these actions did not create or ensure a "safe, enjoyable and successful experience" for NB or his fellow students. This statement is also consistent with the credible accounts of other student/athletes who have stated that the coach had a propensity for encouraging them to disassociate with students whom he considers "quitters" or "bad influences."

 

Perhaps the most egregious conduct occurred during the course of the team meeting  later that day, described  in great detail throughout my comprehensive Confidential Report. The reality is that Coach  Moniz was short, angry and upset with his team. He was well aware that the vast majority of his student/athletes viewed him as a "father­ figure, " with trust, confidence, and respect; where winning was paramount . He was by all accounts a tough taskmaster, and those athletes would follow his lead and do as he asked. When he threatened to resign and abandon the team, leaving the room to have them "figure it out," he knew or should have known that such an unwelcome consequence, resignation, would have evoked action on  the part of those trusting athletes. Though  Coach  Moniz did not verbally communicate that the team should use any means, including a visit to NB's home to "figure it out," the implied message was the same. He used his position of power, authority and  influence over emotionally­ charged adolescent students to resolve an adult problem - Coach Moniz 's problem, not the team's problem. In so doing, he knew or should have known that he was causing a schism between members of the team, NB and NB's friends, and he manipulated those relationships to satisfy his own personal interests, despite the fact that NB had stepped forward and was willing to take responsibility.

 

C. Recommendations

 


l. Refrain from reappointing Mr. Moniz from serving in any capacity as a coach in the Portsmouth School District for the 2018-19 school year, and until such time as he receives appropriate training, at the Superintendent's discretion, so that he may successfully comport himself to the Coaches' Code of Conduct, the purpose of which through good role modeling is to promote positive experiences in a safe environment and to assist student athletes with important life skills and the development of good character.

This Executive Summary is respectfully submitted to Ana Riley, M. Ed, Superintendent of the Portsmouth School District, on this 6th day of June, 2018.

After all, everyone I interviewed, including the coach, acknowledged that Portsmouth has been infamously dubbed ‘‘Sportsmouth" because sports in general, and the football program in particular, is considered a cult.