Coach who blew whistle on suspected felon loses his job
Abuse suspect Ricardo Lee Moreno, a former assistant wrestling coach at Altar Valley Middle School
CREATED Feb. 10, 2012 - UPDATED: Feb. 10, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - An assistant wrestling coach is arrested--accused of sending inappropriate text messages to a former student. Friday, the head coach who turned him in was fired. That coach is now firing back at the district.
Pima County sheriff's detectives announced Thursday they'd arrested 42-year-old Ricardo Moreno, also known as Richard Harris, for "luring a minor for sexual exploitation," a felony. Moreno coached at Altar Valley Middle School, in Pima County southwest of Tucson.
Head wrestling coach Todd Hezlitt says the victim, a 15-year-old girl, first told him about the inappropriate messages she'd gotten from Moreno.
“It took a little bit to figure out what's going on, how do I handle this, where should I go,” Hezlitt told KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen.
After the weekend and on the next day school was open, he says he took the accusations to district staff. Law enforcement took over.
After deputies investigated and arrested Moreno, Hezlitt was fired.
“I was told today I was fired in case this case were to come up again. With my involvement with this case, they did not want to have to deal with the liability of anything in the future.” Hezlitt later said, “What should be happening to me is receive a thank you from the school district for bringing this to their attention.”
Superintendent Dr. Nathan McCann says that is not why Hezlitt, who's also a bus driver in the district, was let go.
McCann says Hezlitt failed to follow procedure: “Employees, when they suspect any sort of crime against a child, are to make that notification immediately,” McCann explained, adding other performance issues were considered in the firing.
“I told them due to the protection of the victim and never dealing with this before, I wanted to ensure that it was done right,” Hezlitt said. “That's why I did what I did. It would be different if I waited a week to report this. I didn't.”
Hezlitt added he was never trained on how to handle the situation. The superintendent rejected that claim and said any employee should at least know to ask what to do.
Hezlitt said: “My major point was: how do I protect a friend, how do I protect somebody I know from somebody that's doing something, to me, vicious? I did the best thing I could.”
McCann told KGUN9 Moreno, a new hire, had not yet undergone a background check, which is a requirement for any employee. He said the district will act quickly to enact tougher standards for all new employees and ensure they’re investigated before they step foot in a school. A basic search of Moreno’s possible criminal past in Arizona yielded only traffic offenses.
The Altar Valley School District sent a letter home with students Friday explaining this week’s events.