Ridgefield police, DCF investigate Veterans Park parent for alleged physical abuse

Ridgefield Police Department, Ridgefield, Conn. Thursday, March 28, 2019.

Ridgefield Police Department, Ridgefield, Conn. Thursday, March 28, 2019.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

The Ridgefield Police Department and state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) are investigating a Veterans Park parent who allegedly verbally abused and forcefully grabbed a six-year-old autistic student during the school’s annual spirit run on Sept. 27.

Police received a statement on Sept. 27 from the student’s mother who did not witness the events herself as well as two eyewitness accounts of what happened at the PTA-sponsored fundraiser. There was an additional statement submitted to the police on Oct. 11 by the student’s mother, who by then had decided to formally press charges against the alleged abuser.

Ridgefield police Capt. Shawn Platt said on Monday, Dec. 9, that the department would not be commenting on the case as it involves a juvenile and it remains ongoing.

According to the Sept. 27 testimony, the alleged abuser yelled at the victim, “pulled her onto her feet by grabbing her arm,” and pushed the student into timeout.

According to her mother, the student’s arm showed deep bruising patterns less than 45 minutes after the incident — which she documented and provided to Ridgefield police and Department of Children and Families for their respective investigations.

“The unanimous decision was report it to the principal and the police,” the Sept. 27 statement to the police reads. “Upon arrival to the police station, fresh bruises were on [my daughter’s] left arm. We feel as though we are making a correct decision here to report this incident.”

“An original incident report was made by myself with pictures of bruising on my daughter’s arm,” the Oct. 11 statement reads. “ ... I came back to press official charges ... the following week after speaking with our attorney, however, was advised by Detective [Tom] Dardis to hold on charges until hearing what the school was going to do. Although he said he could not speak for the school, but did speak with the SRO [Mark] Giglio and felt that the school would be helping to resolve the matter.”

The mother’s attorney, Piper Paul, spoke to The Ridgefield Press on Friday, Dec. 6, and said that the school never resolved the matter and that the parent in question is on “probationary status” pending the results of the DCF and police investigation.

“This greatly concerns my client as it ignores the safety needs of her daughter and places the student directly in harms way,” Paul said. “ ... The school is responsible for this parent and they have yet to take responsibility for her actions that happened on school property.”

The Veterans Park spirit run took place after school at the school’s lower fields, which are maintained by the town’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“They were using school equipment,” Paul said. “The school promoted the event on the homepage of its website. It’s town property. And yet, the district is claiming they can’t get involved at all because it was a PTA event.”

Paul pointed to a release form that parents sign that allow their kids to attend such events as part of the problem.

“If the PTA is fully responsible because of the release form, then the question is: Why did the school district knowingly allow its students to be released into the care of parents who are not trained? None of these volunteers have specialized special education training, and when you’re releasing 20-plus kids into the hands of non-trained volunteers then you get the problems we’re seeing here,” Paul said.

The attorney said that the alleged victim’s class has 21 students — most of whom attended the after-school spirit run — and that they were left in the hands of two volunteers.

“The schools shouldn’t be releasing students unless the PTA trains its personnel,” Paul said. “Otherwise, there’s nobody to take liability when an incident like this happens. The goal here is simple: Don’t release students to volunteers who aren’t trained. The district needs to be held responsible for ignoring this basic procedure. They have the power over the PTA — and, not to mention, are the ones benefiting from this event — and yet nothing has been done. My client wanted to resolve this without having to file a police report. She didn’t want to involve DCF but nobody wanted to take responsibility of what happened.”

According to Paul, the DCF case is expected to close on Saturday, Dec. 14.

“They have photos of fingertip bruising on the victim’s forearm,” the attorney said. “This girl didn’t bump into something accidentally. She was grabbed and pulled hard enough that it left a mark. ... and it only took 45 minutes to show up, which is very alarming. ... Bruising shouldn’t happen on soft tissue on the inner arm like that. It’s a sign that someone squeezed and pressed down pretty hard. The photo shows a thumbprint on the girl’s arm.”

Paul said that the parent should be removed from the PTA and all school events while the investigation is pending.

“The parent is not supposed to be involved — she’s supposed to be on probationary status, and yet is planning the classroom holiday party for my client’s daughter,” Paul said. “My client received an email from the offender on Wednesday [Dec. 4] and was horrified to see who had signed up to volunteer for the class party. ... The attorney for the school has told us that the email sent to my client [on Dec. 4] was not from the abuser, but someone from the PTA who was using her account.”

As for the two eyewitnesses, Paul said that they observed “inappropriate and aggressive” behavior from the alleged abuser. They reported it to Paul’s client, who was not present when the abuse happened, and then submitted statements to the police.

One of those statements was submitted to the Ridgefield Police Department on Sept. 28 — the day after the incident happened.

“These eyewitnesses were sorry they didn’t step in and intervene when it first happened, but they thought the victim’s mother was on the field and saw everything that happened,” Paul said. “When they found out that the victim’s mother showed up 15 minutes late to the event because she was at a therapy appointment for her younger daughter who also has special needs, they told her what had happened. ... What’s really sad is that the eyewitnesses said that kids were doing the same thing as my client’s daughter — playing with grass and throwing water bottles up in the air, but it was only my client’s daughter who was singled out. A student with a hidden disability was a victim of silent abuse. We’re afraid that this will happen again if action is not taken, and clearly the school is hesitant to take any action against this parent.”

Paul said her client was motivated to speak to the media after more than two months of not hearing anything from the school, the police or DCF.

“The school and the PTA both feel like they can’t do anything without something from the police or DCF who have been investigating for two months,” Paul said. “We felt there was no other choice. ...

“The bottom line is that the school allowed children to go onto school property for an event that was understaffed and that was being overseen by a PTA that doesn’t have the appropriate training,” Paul added. “If this were a sexual abuse case, would this be the response? Why is it OK to allow physical abuse? When something like this happens and it’s ‘nobody’s fault’ and no action is taken, then that’s when you begin to question the leadership. Someone has to take responsibility and make sure that this doesn’t happen again. There needs to be accountability and training and so far we’ve seen none of that.”