The head coach of Hartford’s Bulkeley High School was fired on Friday and some former players were surprised.
“I seen him put his hands on my teammate once, but other than that he was vocally, like he'd abuse people," 18-year-old Shekquan Bogle, a former player, told NBC Connecticut.
In addition to his termination at the school, Coach Pablo Ortiz Jr. is under investigation by the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), where he works with children as a social worker.
"When you coming over here and you got a coach who is treating the kids like that of course they are going to say something," Jerry Strums, Jr., another former player, said.
Sources provided the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters recent emails they said were sent by assistant coaches to school officials, which outlined concerns. During a meeting on the issue, an assistant coach said Ortiz came over and grabbed a player and threw him to the ground.
”He was a good coach, he had his flaws and sometimes he would get upset at us," Strums Jr. added.
State law said mandated reporters must notify DCF’s Careline or police within 12 hours of suspected abuse and must submit a written report to DCF within 48 hours. It’s unclear who contacted the state and when.
Seventeen additional letters and emails from student athletes were written to the principal and members of the board of education last month. Outlining allegations Ortiz was abusive on and off the field and prompting several to walk away from the game they love.
“He disrespected one of my teammates and that's made me feel unsafe,” Shekquan Bogle told the NBC ConnecticutTroubleshooters.
Other players summarizing their sentiments with disgust:
One player stated, “Sometimes he would even grab players shake them and get all up in there (sic) face."
Another player stated, “As a player, i also felt threatened because he put hands on some of the players.”
A third player added, “He destroyed me as a person while being on that football team physically and mentally."
But not all agree-- past player Kvhan Gordon is shocked Ortiz is out.
“He was always there, like if you needed something he would look out for you. He had high expectations for some people," Gordon added.
A spokesman for the DCF tells the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters that Ortiz - who has been a social worker for the state at DCF the last 13 years- is now under investigation by the state department and that his duties have been restricted.
Spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said in a statement:
"The department takes incidents such as this very seriously and has the highest expectations for its staff, especially related to children."
Another letter from a player may be the reason why: “He would call me all types of things like a pot head, drug dealer, p**** due to the fact i had to take care of my grandmother. he would exploit my information to the other coaches about me being a dfc (sic) case, that made me so uncomfortable."
"The first priority of the Hartford public schools is to ensure student safety. as acting superintendent of schools, i will not allow any unacceptable staff behavior during my tenure. in the unfortunate event that, despite our best efforts to the contrary, individuals engage in inappropriate interactions with students, with their families, with staff or with any of the visitors who come to our schools and events, such individuals will be dealt with swiftly in accordance with the policies established by the Hartford board of education.
“Furthermore, we have recently provided enhanced district-wide training for employees regarding board policy on “reports of suspected abuse or neglect of children or sexual assault of students by school employees.” i have made it the highest level of priority for district leadership and for all staff to receive this training and comply with the board’s policy. Hartford public schools is currently investigating allegations of possible failures in the reporting process and will comment further upon the conclusion of the investigation. in the meantime, please know that all appropriate steps are being taken to ensure the safety of our students," said acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez.