Coaches are Mandated Reporters II

Posted: March 22, 2015 in HRLax, US Lacrosse
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Coaches are Mandated Reporters Part II

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Beginning in January 2012, Anthony Brooks, Mark Moreno, and Michael Moreno, (Mark Moreno’s oldest of three sons),  were coaches on a high school boy’s lacrosse club team that was part of Hampton Roads Lacrosse League (HRLAX). In addition to being a coach, Mr. Moreno (Mark) was also the Vice President of York Lacrosse Club, Inc. (YLC) which was formed in January 2012 to fund and develop a boys high school club team to compete within the Hampton Roads Lacrosse league. The entire Moreno family had been huge proponents of building a boy’s high school club team in the Williamsburg area and earlier that year had received an email from Jim Old, President, Hampton Roads Lacrosse in May 2011 outlining the formation of a York / Williamsburg Boys High School Club team.

(HRLax), a 501(c)(3) Corporation, whose stated purpose is to provide a youth lacrosse experience in the Hampton Roads geographical region. Hampton Roads Lacrosse collects membership dues for US Lacrosse (USL), The National Governing Body of Lacrosse. In addition to collecting membership dues for US Lacrosse, HRLax also collects a participation fee from members to administer league operations and provide certification for coaches. Teams that participate within the league were required to play (10) scheduled games within the league.

Prior to the formation of the team, Mr. Moreno was invited by the Director of Development, HRLax, to a formation meeting in York County to encourage the development of the new boys’ team in York County. The team was to include players from Williamsburg and York County and Mr. Moreno was urged by those present to serve as President of the new club. Mr. Moreno declined the offer to be the club’s president and was unanimously elected as Vice President. At that time the Moreno’s were introduced to Mr. Brooks who had offered to serve as head coach for the newly formed team.

In the months that followed Mr. Moreno and his son Michael received Level 1 coaching certifications from US Lacrosse to assist Mr. Brooks with the team. Michael worked directly with Mr. Brooks both at games and practices as an assistant coach. Michael and Mr. Brooks appeared to have enjoyed a good working relationship and were very successful in developing this first year team. Both the Moreno’s enjoyed a very positive experience with Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Moreno attended board meetings, worked on promoting and marketing fundraising campaigns, acquired the team uniforms, and developed the team’s website, Facebook, Blog, and Twitter. Mr. Moreno was focused on the welfare of the players and focused on safety to include proper hydration, concussion awareness, and abuse and injury prevention. Mr. Moreno provided Gatorade coolers and ice for hydration and basically attended to the sideline activities and did not actively coach the games or practices.

Mr. Moreno routinely worked to create awareness for the team to enhance fundraising and participation through social media, the team’s website, and a blog. Before the season started, Mr. Moreno coordinated and scheduled a lacrosse clinic that included the coaching staff from the University of Richmond Men’s Lacrosse Team, River City Lacrosse, Play in School, and Elkins Sport Performance of Richmond, VA. Mr. Moreno also encouraged the scheduling of a scrimmage with Walsingham Academy in Williamsburg which was later played. Mr. Moreno enlisted area restaurants to help support the team and created some cross-promotions that essentially created traffic and goodwill for the restaurants and awareness for the team.

On or about April 20, 2012, Mr. Moreno was contacted by the head coach of Christchurch School Boy’s Lacrosse Team, inviting the YLC team to play a scrimmage game with the Christchurch JV team in Urbana, VA. Mr. Moreno sent an email message to Mr. Brooks who approved of the game and also pointed out that there were some potential conflicts with the proposed Friday. Subsequently, Mr. Moreno learned that a majority of both team’s players were required to take SAT tests on Saturday morning. Mr. Moreno rescheduled the scrimmage game to Saturday afternoon to address all conflicts and communicated the game through Facebook, Blog, Twitter, Slideshare, and the team website even naming the game the “Rappa Riva Lax Classic” and coordinating with a local restaurant to sponsor a BBQ dinner after the game.

On Friday, April 28, 2012 immediately following a game Mr. Brooks gathered players and parents for some after game remarks and then invited Mr. Moreno to address the group. Mr. Moreno addressed the group promoting the upcoming Christchurch game and all in attendance were genuinely excited. Mr. Brooks interrupted Mr. Moreno telling him that he could not be at the game because he had to work. Mr. Moreno quietly acknowledged his objection and dismissed the group to avoid any controversy in front of the players and parents after the game. Mr. Moreno admits to being surprised with Mr. Brooks’ objection given that the game was widely publicized and that Brooks had already approved the scheduling of the game. Mr. Moreno elected to call Mr. Brooks after leaving the game to discuss the apparent misunderstanding.

In the ensuing phone conversation Mr. Moreno stated that he considered Mr. Brooks as a retired service member and had no knowledge that he worked outside of his volunteer activities on the team and could not be present for a game a week later. Mr. Moreno stated that the conflict was unintentional, and apologized to Mr. Brooks and stated to Mr. Brooks was not the only certified coach on the team and that the scrimmage game could be played without his attendance. Mr. Moreno ultimately agreed that the scrimmage game could either be rescheduled or canceled and concluded the phone call.

Shortly thereafter, Michael Moreno advised Mr. Moreno that some players on the team had directly told him that the coach had made some of them feel “creepy” and “weird”. When Michael asked them to elaborate on why they felt that way, Michael told Mr. Moreno that the players related that Brooks;

  1. had taken pictures of one of the players in his compression shorts
  2. had photographed another in urinated shorts

Mr. Moreno immediately contacted a US Lacrosse Official outside of the immediate area for advice on what should be done. The official told Mr. Moreno that he had to report the allegations but was not sure to whom it should be reported.

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Richard J. Blovad

The following morning, Saturday, April 29, 2012, Mr. Moreno received a text message from Richard Blovad, then Boys High School Commissioner, HRLAX,  telling him that Mr. Brooks was complaining about the Christchurch scrimmage game. Mr. Moreno immediately called Blovad to ask what the issue was regarding the game. Mr. Blovad advised that he saw no reason why the game could not be played and that he did not understand Brooks’ objection considering that there were two other coaches available for the game. At the end of that part of the conversation Mr. Moreno asked Blovad a hypothetical question related to suspected sexual abuse by a coach. Blovad immediately disengaged from the call prompting Mr. Moreno to call Blovad again. Mr. Blovad did not answer. Mr. Blovad has subsequently denied that any references to suspected abuse were discussed on that call and recently testified that he first heard one of the allegations from Christopher Swanenburg. Blovad also works directly with Swanenburg as a coach for the Patriots tournament team operated by Swanenburg.

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Christopher T. Swanenburg

Mr. Moreno then contacted Chris Swanenburg, then Director of Boys’ Coaches Training for HRLax and after approximately 25 to 30 minutes of discussion related to summer travel team opportunities Mr. Moreno asked Swanenburg a hypothetical question related to suspected sexual abuse. The question he asked was “what do you do if you have a coach taking pictures of a kid in his compression shorts?” Swanenburg only acknowledged the question by telling Mr. Moreno about an incident that he had witnessed where a player was knocked to the ground by a coach never responding to the hypothetical question that Mr. Moreno had asked.  Swanenburg has had numerous lawsuits related to his termination at CNU and is represented by D. Hayden Fisher.  At the time of the call Mr. Moreno did not have any knowledge that Swanenburg had lawsuits pending in Newport News and did not discover that fact until almost eight months after the call. The call ended shortly thereafter and Swanenburg promptly sent an email to Mr. Moreno attaching participation documents for Capital Lacrosse.

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The Patriots Lacrosse program participates in summer tournaments and is owned and directed by Mr. Swanenburg. Swanenburg sent an email to Brooks on Thursday, May 3, 2012,  almost one week after the conversation, and only  after Swanenburg’s attorney D. Hayden Fisher had sent an email to Brooks asking for “exact words”. Swanenburg’s purported version of the conversation only occurs after his attorney is apparently engaged by Brooks and Mr. Moreno adamantly disputes Swanenburg’s finely crafted version of the conversation.

In his email Swanenburg states: “On Saturday, April 28 Mark Moreno called me on my cell phone at 9:33 am. The phone call lasted 35 minutes and 13 seconds. Almost the entire conversation was spent discussing miscellaneous lacrosse topics. After around 33 minutes on the phone Mark mentioned to me that you (Anthony Brooks) had taken photos of boys crotches and that you were going to be resigning. I don’t recall his exact words and I’m not certain if he actually said boy or boys. I am, however, 100% certain that he accused you of photographing at least one boy’s crotch and that you were going to be resigning. Upon hearing Mark’s accusation, I may have said something like “I am sorry to hear that” or “that’s too bad” and told him that I had to get to watching my daughter’s lacrosse game. I asked no follow-up questions and the call ended shortly thereafter.”

Later that day, Mr. Moreno became aware that the Team Statistician and Scorekeeper, Shari Hamel circulated an email to the parents and players stating that because of the disagreement over the Christchurch scrimmage game that the Moreno’s were trying to remove Mr. Brooks from his coaching duties. Mr. Moreno responded to Hamel telling her that her information was incorrect and that Brooks was disseminating false information about the game. Immediately thereafter, Mr. Moreno received a call from one of the players that had reported the allegations to Michael. The player called Mr. Moreno and related to Mr. Moreno that he had been contacted by Brooks and that Brooks was now offering him a captain spot in the upcoming playoff game.

Mr. Moreno became very concerned that Brooks was now allegedly contacting one of the players that had related allegations about Brooks as well as being present when the other players shared their allegations with Michael. Mr. Moreno sent an email to the other board members requesting an emergency meeting and to remove Brooks from the team immediately. Mr. Moreno subsequently received an email from Crystal Clark, President YLC stating that she was not going to take any actions. Mr. Moreno followed with another email telling her that this was a serious situation and that action needed to be taken immediately. Clark refused to schedule an emergency meeting despite being told in a subsequent telephone call that there were allegations of suspected sexual abuse.

That evening, Michael Moreno called Shari Hamel, team statistician, in response to the email that she was now circulating,  stated “you don’t f**** know what’s going on, Player 1 came to me at Wednesday’s practice and told me that Coach Brooks had taken inappropriate pictures of him in his compression shorts when the boys were changing into their uniforms.”

At 11:08 pm that evening, Richard Blovad, High School Boys Commissioner, Hampton Roads Chapter of US Lacrosse,  sent an email to all players and parents of YLC announcing that all team activities were suspended. At 11:59 pm on the same evening Blovad sends the following email to Mr. Brooks:

“I’ll call you tomorrow!! I am doing everything I can do to shut the Marino’s [sic] up and they are causing quiet [sic] the problem for me.”

Blovad, called Michael Moreno the next day to ask about the allegations and the call lasted about 5 minutes and Blovad only called Michael after Michael had called him requesting him to do so. Michael related the allegations and approximately four hours later Blovad reinstated the team stating that he had conducted an investigation. He reinstated Brooks and subsequently removed the Moreno’s from the league. Blovad never contacts Mr. Moreno after the suspension of the team on Saturday night despite the fact that he admits that he received his “first” information from Swanenburg at approximately 9:00 pm Saturday night.

On Monday morning, Blovad sends an email to the Mark and Michael Moreno essentially removing them from the league citing that they had either not reported the incidents in a timely manner or did not provide information as to what happened or what players were involved.

The following night, YLC conducted a practice in which Mr. Moreno’s youngest son Thomas was expelled from the team as well as one of the players who had reported allegations to Michael Moreno. A third player who had also reported the allegations against Mr. Brooks was threatened with expulsion but not expelled. Later that evening the player authored an email in which he said the following, “wow f*** this, apparently our opinions don’t matter and won’t change anything. Apparently, I was almost kicked off?? What the f***?, Brooks told the team that I quit because I went to talk to Charlie Turner, volunteer coach, with the other concerned players. Brooks has destroyed his own reputation and I have lost all respect for him, Blovad, and Ms. Hamel.”

The following morning, now convinced that Blovad has not reported the alleged abuse to proper authorities, Mr. Moreno placed a call to the abuse hotline giving only his name and the allegations electing initially not to give the names of the players. Subsequently, after being requested to do so, Mr. Moreno provided the hotline operator with names of the alleged victims. Mr. Moreno was contacted by an investigator approximately an hour after placing the call to the hotline, requesting to interview Mr. Moreno concerning the allegations of suspected sexual abuse. Mr. Moreno offered to travel with Michael Moreno to meet with the investigator. The Moreno’s were interviewed for about an hour at the York/Poquoson Department of Social Services. The Moreno’s were advised that the allegations were reportable and that they had fulfilled their duties as mandated reporters. Mr. Moreno was contacted later in the week by the investigator requesting some additional information, which he provided.

Later that week the Moreno family received a hand delivered letter from Jim Old, President of HRLax that they were now “barred” from all HRLax events, games, practices, etc. That letter was delivered prior to the conclusion of the Department of Social Services investigation. The letter does not cite any specific reasons other than to state “due to your attendance at practices”.  Mr. Moreno then contacted US Lacrosse to inform them that he and has family were now the targets of retaliation for fulfilling their duties as mandated reporters.

On May 7, 2012, Mr. Moreno was contacted by the investigator who informed him that the investigation had concluded and the finding was “unfounded”. The investigator specifically told Mr. Moreno that he had met his obligations under the law as a mandated reporter. According to A Guide For Mandated Reporters In Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect a finding of unfounded is one in which “The investigation reveals insufficient evidence that abuse or neglect occurred. This finding does not necessarily mean that abuse or neglect did not occur, but that the evidence was not sufficient for a founded disposition.”

Anthony Brooks v. Michael Moreno, et al Case No: CL12-4935 York/Poquoson Circuit Court

On August 28, 2012 the Moreno’s were served with Plaintiff’s Complaint alleging two counts of Defamation per se. After nearly two years of discovery and litigation a two-day jury trial was held on July 8th & 9th in which the jury found in favor of the defendant Michael Moreno, and against Mark Moreno in favor of the Plaintiff Anthony Brooks.

Trial Transcript Day 1

Trial Transcript Day 2

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Supreme Court of Virginia

Petition for Appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia 

Brief in Opposition to Petition for Appeal

Mr. Moreno has now filed a Petition for Appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia and  contends that he should have been immune from civil liability as a result of his lawful reporting of suspected sexual abuse and further contends that the Plaintiff in this case never proved that Mr. Moreno acted with actual malice. In order to prove actual malice the Plaintiff needed to prove that the alleged statement to Christopher Swanenburg was knowingly false.

Mr. Moreno believes as a matter of opinion that this lawsuit was instigated for improper purpose by Christopher Swanenburg and D. Hayden Fisher, his attorney. Swanenburg and his attorney have essentially prosecuted a series of legal actions in Newport News for nearly 4 years making numerous claims and have thus far have failed to prevail in any of them. Upon knowledge and belief, Swanenburg’s email account of the phone conversation is a finely crafted false statement and his subsequent testimony at trial was either factually false, evasive, or both.

Both Michael and Mark Moreno represented themselves in this case electing to withdraw from counsel in the early stages of the case.

Mr. Moreno has now begun the appeal process to the Supreme Court of Virginia and is asking for your help. If you are associated with a non-profit that exists to protect children and have access to legal resources, we need your help. Mr. Moreno is now scheduled to appear before a writ panel hearing at the Supreme Court of Virginia on March 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm.

Hampton Roads Lacrosse Coaches Meeting Presentation.

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