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A coach in limbo

Police report clears Coach Nalen of criminal misconduct, but he remains suspended from SHS football

By Mark E. Vogler

 

A Saugus Police Department investigation determined there is no evidence that Saugus High School football coach Anthony Nalen ordered one of his players to practice in his underwear in an alleged hazing incident last month.

“Although it may be perceived by some parents that this policy about practice attire has been inappropriately enforced at times, pending further evidence the current information gathered in this investigation does not amount to a crime,” Saugus Police Det. Sgt. Paul Vansteensburg wrote in the conclusion of his five-page report.

But while Nalen’s lawyer was confident that the police report released Wednesday cleared his client of any misconduct, the second-year coach remained on paid leave. And at press time, yesterday, there was no indication if or when Nalen would be reinstated.

“I believe the administration owes him [Nalen] a public apology,” Revere Attorney Michael Castano said of the way his client has been treated by Saugus school officials.

“I have been assured in the past by phone and email that once the investigation was done, he would be reinstated,” Castano told The Saugus Advocate in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Soon after being informed by Saugus Police Sgt. Paul Vansteensburg on Tuesday afternoon that the police probe had exonerated Nalen, Castano said he left phone and email messages with the administration. But, more than 24 hours later, Castano said he never received a response back from the school administration.

“We saw no reason why the coach wouldn’t be reinstated immediately,” Castano said.

“At this point, we’re just waiting to see if the administration does the right thing or not. But we’re still not being cooperated with by the administration,” he said.

Meanwhile, Saugus Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. declined comment on Nalen’s immediate and future status. And the Saugus Public Schools Athletic Department has begun advertising for a new assistant football coach amid reports that school officials fired the assistants after they refused to show up until Nalen is reinstated.

 

DeRuosi explains why he can’t talk

In response to emails and telephone calls from The Saugus Advocate, DeRuosi emailed a copy of a one-page position letter dated Wednesday (Sept. 12) which appeared to be addressed to parents, staff, media and anyone who has questions about Nalen’s suspension.

The letter reads as follows:

“With the recent media coverage of our high school football program, I have received many inquiries from parents regarding the team’s coaching staff.

“I have Michael Mabee filling in as acting head coach. Mr. Mabee is well known to our students as he has coached our middle school football program in the past. I am confident that Mr. Mabee will succeed as a coach, and a mentor to the young men and women on our team. He will be able to assist any and all new assistant coaches.

“I have also received many questions about the background behind the media stories. I am unable to discuss the specifics of the situation or details related to individual students or staff members. It would not be fair for me to discuss this personnel issue in a public forum, or with the media. I can tell you that our school system’s first priority is the health, wellbeing, and education of our students. That priority guides all of our decisions and choices, and when we are made aware of a potential issue involving a student or staff member, we proceed carefully and thoughtfully – not hastily – to ensure we fully understand the situation and are equipped to react to it in an appropriate way. The best interest of our students and staff members demands that we proceed in such a deliberate fashion.

“I thank you for your support, trust and understanding on this matter. If there is a point at which it becomes appropriate for me to share additional information with you, I will do so.

“I hope we will all rally around the student athletes on the team, and support them in every way over the coming season and school year.

“Sincerely,

“Superintendent

“Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr.”

 

The criminal investigation

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Interim Police Chief Ronald Giorgetti stressed that the police probe “was conducted solely for a purpose,” which was to determine the validity of allegations about a hazing incident.

“It wasn’t conducted for any administrative reasons … We have concluded our investigation into the allegation of hazing with the information that was provided and determined there was no crime,” Chief Giorgetti said.

DeRuosi contacted the Police Department on Aug. 29 after hearing of “a possible hazing incident involving a football player and coach that occurred during a practice at the Belmonte Middle School field,” according to the police investigation report.

The superintendent told police he called the student’s mother on Aug. 28 to verify what he heard. “He learned that her son told her he had to practice in his underwear on the first day of practice, Friday, Aug. 17, because he was wearing the wrong color shorts,” Vansteensburg wrote in his report.

“He was told of a policy that the Football team has about practice attire; that being if players are not in full equipment/uniform they are to wear only school colors: red, white, black, or gray. If players are not in school team colors they are to change, but in this instance the player practiced in his underwear,” the report continued.

“Dr. DeRuosi went on to say that he already spoke with the head coach, Mr. Anthony Nalen, once about the incident and he denied knowledge of one of his players practicing in his underwear. He [DeRuosi] also explained that he was told of two other players practicing in their underwear last season under the same head coach. Dr. DeRuosi provided me with the names of parents and coaches that may have information regarding these incidents.”

The mother of the player involved in last month’s incident told Vansteensburg that she had been approached by two other parents “who stated the same thing happened to their children the previous season.”

When both parents were approached by the detective, they told similar stories. “Both her son and the other senior were told to either change into football pants or practice in their underwear and both ended up practicing in their boxers,” Vansteensburg wrote in his report, referring to an alleged incident last year.

“When she found out about this she was furious and wanted to confront the coach about it, but her son urged her not to. There were about two weeks left in the season and her son told her he did not want to make a big deal out of it and wanted to just let it go,” Vansteensburg said.

A father contacted by the police detective told a similar story, according to the report, “stating that his son showed up in the wrong color shorts and had to change out of them and ended up practicing in his underwear.”

The man’s son “also did not want to make a big deal of it and asked his father to just leave it alone,” the report added.

 

Detective says it’s tough to make a case

Besides interviewing the superintendent, Vansteensburg said he questioned three parents and the coach about the allegations. The three alleged student victims declined to be interviewed by police. Without their testimony, police are unable to make a case.

“At this point in the investigation I do not believe the elements of any criminal offense has been met. Hazing is spelled out in the Massachusetts General Laws as when a suspect conducts a method of initiation into any student organization while willfully or recklessly endangering the physical or mental health of any person,” Vansteensburg concluded.

“Coach Nalen adamantly denied knowledge that any player has practiced in their underwear. All other interviews conducted were hearsay statements from concerned parents. The players involved appeared in no way to have been endangered physically nor did any one of them wish to come forward to speak with us,” he wrote.

“The video clearly shows a student athlete on the practice field in short shorts that appear to be boxer-briefs; however that player does not appear to be treated any different than the others on the field. It does not appear that any child was singled out.”

Castano said he learned that Saugus High School Principal Michael Hashem advised the football team in a meeting Wednesday that Nalen had been cleared of the allegations. “I don’t understand why we haven’t heard back,” Castano said.

“I know the child in question sent an email to the principal saying nothing happened. That [email sent to principal] happened Friday or Saturday after the game. So the alleged victim claims he wasn’t a victim and that the coach did nothing wrong,” the attorney said.

With the police investigation noting the testimony of three parents who claimed their sons practiced in their underwear, that could be all of the evidence that DeRuosi needs to keep Nalen from returning to the sidelines to coach at Saugus High again. But the superintendent said it’s “a personnel issue,” he cannot talk about at this time.

Nalen continues to teach at Belmonte Middle School.

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