Retired detective says he told Stonington officials to report Chokas to DCF, police

Stonington — Retired Groton City police Detective Dave Thomas says that in 2013 he told school administrators that teacher and coach Timothy Chokas was taking female students into the darkroom in his photography class and touching them inappropriately.

Thomas said he also told both Superintendent of Schools Van Riley and Stonington High School Principal Mark Friese that they were required by state law to report what they knew to police and the state Department of Children and Families.

Thomas, a Stonington resident, had daughters in the school at the time and said he told Riley that one of his daughter’s friends told him that Chokas had rubbed her bare stomach in the darkroom and that it was common knowledge among female students that he was going into the darkroom with girls alone.

“Athletic Director Bryan Morrone, Riley and Friese all should be held accountable for not protecting kids in that school. They hid things and covered this entire Chokas thing up ...” Thomas said.

It is unclear whether Riley, Friese or any other school official or teacher ever reported these allegations to police and DCF, which they are required to do under state law if they reasonably suspect a child is being abused. Riley has refused to say whether the numerous complaints about Chokas inappropriately touching girls from 2013 until his resignation this past January were ever reported, only saying they were handled appropriately. Emails show that school officials say they did report a 2019 incident to DCF.

When asked before the Sept. 12 school board meeting about Thomas’ allegations, Riley said he had never received a report from Thomas that Chokas was touching girls in the darkroom.

When shown a copy of his own Feb. 21, 2013, email to Thomas, in which Riley wrote, “Do you have the name of the girl who that the JV coach (Chokas) patted on the bare stomach? and when/where did that happen? Thanks....just following through on everything,” Riley told the Day he did not recall sending such an email to Thomas.

Thomas had provided The Day with a copy of the email as proof that he made a complaint to Riley.

Riley acknowledged that the school system email address the message was sent from was his but reiterated that he did not recall sending such an email and that he would look into it. Riley also questioned whether Thomas provided answers to his questions.

On Friday, Riley said he met with Thomas on Feb. 15, 2013, to discuss complaints that Thomas had with the coaching of former girls soccer coach Dave Walsh. He said he followed up with the Feb. 21 email. He said he and Thomas did not meet again and Thomas did not give him the name of the coach. There are typically a total of three to four coaches for the girls varsity and junior varsity soccer teams.

Thomas said he told Riley in person about the complaints and provided him with name of the girl Chokas allegedly touched in the darkroom. He said he exchanged emails with Friese about the complaints.

“They said they would look into it and do an investigation,” Thomas said, adding that he did not later check on the outcome of the investigation.

“This wasn’t a secret, everyone in the school knew. It’s hard to believe this guy (Chokas) was able to last as long as he did,” he said.

While police officers are considered mandated reporters of child abuse. Thomas was no longer a police officer at the time of his complaint to school officials. Groton city records show he retired on Oct. 19, 2012. 

Friese, meanwhile refused to say whether Thomas had reported complaints about Chokas to him and whether he reported those complaints to DCF or police, referring questions to Riley.

Morrone did not reply to an email about Thomas' allegations. Friese has told The Day that Morrone never received any concerns from players or parents at any time about Chokas' behavior. But emails from as far back as 2013 show that Friese said that he and Morrone both talked to Chokas after receiving complaints from soccer players that he "pats the girls on the bottom which makes some girls uncomfortable, he has also picked up a girl and held her like a baby, wears his fleece halfway unzipped without a shirt underneath." Chokas denied the charges.

The Day filed a Freedom of Information request on Sept. 8 for emails between Thomas and Riley, Friese, former high school Principal Stephen Murphy and Morrone in 2013 as well as emails between Riley, Friese, Morrone and Murphy concerning Chokas during that same time period. The school system has not yet complied with the request and The Day has filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission.

Thomas provided The Day with another email in which Riley told Friese and Morrone that Chokas and another coach were “to not have any contact with the girls.” It also stated that Chokas had resigned as the assistant girls soccer coach. Chokas also served as assistant golf coach until his resignation.

Female players on both teams as well as many other students have accused Chokas of touching them inappropriately and said they reported it to school officials such as Riley, Friese and Director of Guidance Margo Crowley in 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2019.

The emails provided by Thomas are another example of the school system withholding documents detailing complaints about Chokas that The Day first requested in January. That’s when Chokas was allowed to resign and be paid his full $81,396-a-year salary and health benefits through June 30, after the school system received a complaint from a female student that she witnessed Chokas inappropriately touching a girl in his classroom. In addition to paying him, the school system signed a confidential settlement agreement with Chokas in which school officials agreed not to fire him or disclose any information concerning his employment or separation from his position to anyone except as required by law.

When The Day made the FOI request for complaints or disciplinary action against Chokas, the school system said it had no such records despite girls saying they had complained about him from 2013 to 2019 and emails showing there were such complaints.

The Day has filed two other appeals with the FOI commission about the withholding of the records, asking the commission to order the school system to release them and order school officials, including Board of Education attorney Kyle McClain, to undergo training in FOI law. In addition, The Day has asked the FOI commission to fine Riley, Friese and McClain.

School board member Alisa Morrison has called on her fellow members to launch an investigation into how the complaints were handled and to suspend Riley, Friese and Crowley while the probe takes place. But no other board members have supported her proposal.

Board members such as Farouk Rajab and Candace Anderson have said the allegations were handled properly even though Chairman Alexa Garvey has said board members were never made aware of the allegations against Chokas and were not part of the discussion leading up to his resignation.

The board is awaiting a review by the Office of the State Child Advocate into how the allegations were handled by the school system. Child Advocate Sarah Eagan announced the review after The Day’s initial reporting in June about Chokas’ departure.

Eagan said Thursday that her office’s review is continuing and is taking place alongside similar reviews in other communities. She said it asked for policies and practices regarding compliance with mandated reporting and Title IX, training for staff on maltreatment/harassment prevention, information regarding Chokas’ history with the district, as well as other relevant information. She said the school system has provided that information.

She said her office also is interviewing various stakeholders and will share its preliminary findings and recommendations with the school system. It then will get the school system’s feedback and response and produce a findings letter.

“I think OCA’s primary purpose here is educative, meaning, to get the most impact for our work on these various investigations, we need to contextualize the concerns, and make sure we are providing the most helpful recommendations to the local communities and the state,” she said.

Eagan added Friday that her office anticipates being able to answer questions about how any or all of the reports/complaints were addressed by the district, such as whether they were reported to DCF and police.

Thirty girls have told The Day they were repeatedly touched by Chokas and saw him touching others dating back to 2004. The complaints include that Chokas allegedly placed his legs on girls’ laps, touched their backs, thighs and stomachs, patted their buttocks, massaged their shoulders, leaned up against them and tickled them.

They also allege he asked about their boyfriends, invited them to have breakfast in his classroom, struck one girl in the buttocks with a cane he was using and asked them to call him “Uncle Chokas.” The alleged touching took place in his classroom and an adjacent photo darkroom and during golf and soccer practice. Those who have spoken to The Day say the touching was pervasive and occurred daily.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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