State’s investigation of Española hoops coach Martinez portrays a ‘climate of fear, humiliation’

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The state’s Public Education Department on Monday released a damning list of allegations against Española Valley High School boys basketball coach Richard Martinez, painting a troubling picture of a coach who for years has bullied players, staff and parents — even beating one — yet managed to keep his job through manipulating his relationships with people “in positions of power.”

The 47-page report, known as a Notice of Contemplated Action, reads like the tale of a small-town oligarch who, through a combination of threats, abuse and success, has survived various efforts to remove him.

Martinez “has created a climate of fear, humiliation, intimidation and anguish — not only for many [physical education] students and basketball team members, but also for their parents,” the report says. “His pattern of conduct has served to corrode the teaching and learning atmosphere at EVHS and has negatively affected the community at large.”

The notice of action was issued to Martinez on Aug. 5 and says the department has found sufficient evidence to suspend, revoke or take other disciplinary actions against him. It gives him 20 days to dispute the allegations and request an administrative hearing to answer the charges directly.

“We concluded our investigation into Richard Martinez, and based on what we believe is disturbing and abusive behavior, we are moving forward to revoke all teaching and coaching licenses he holds,” wrote Robert McEntyre, the department spokesman, in an email. “Our priority is ensuring that students are safe at school, and we will hold anyone accountable for abusing their power and putting our kids at risk.”

Martinez deferred comment to his attorney, Sam Bregman, who said he looked forward to defending his client.

“These allegations are more of the same,” Bregman said. “They are politically motivated and not based on fact. Mr. Martinez has been a great teacher and a great coach.”

Martinez coached for 13 years at Española, accumulating a 252-133 record and winning two state titles, including one in March. He guided the program to six state semifinals and 10 district championships in that time. Martinez also led Mora to a state title in his first year as a head coach in 1994-95 and has a 334-165 career record.

Yet, controversy followed the coach as much as success did. Española administrators fired Martinez four times, only to see him regain his job every time. The latest occurred this year, as then-Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez dismissed Martinez as coach and teacher on April 6 upon completion of a district investigation into similar allegations. Gutierrez filed a complaint with the PED that led to its investigation into Martinez’s conduct.

Gutierrez declined to comment on either her investigation or the PED’s case. Current Española Superintendent Eric Martinez did not return a phone message left by The New Mexican.

However, Richard Martinez reached a settlement with Eric Martinez in July to reinstate him to his former jobs, with a five-day suspension and mandatory attendance at a sensitivity course within the first three months of his return as part of the agreement.

The PED’s investigation revealed a disturbing pattern of behavior by the coach. The notice states that Martinez regularly resorted to name-calling against his students and players, sometimes using profanities in the process. He removed students from the gym for not listening to him, or in one case, for bumping into the coach. The report also reveals that he once made two gay students sit apart from the rest of his P.E. class because “the two made his class look bad.”

Martinez also seemed to incite violence in and away from the school. In an incident that took place in 2012, Martinez handled a conflict between two students who were playing basketball during lunchtime by telling them to fight each other in the boys basketball locker room. He later watched video of the fight with other students. Beginning in the fall of 2012, the report states Martinez told players that he wanted them to fight each other during practice for their positions on the team and sometimes stopped practices for them to do so.

That fighting mentality extended to parents, as well. Investigators talked to the father of an Española player about a June incident at a barbecue in which Martinez, who already had been fired by then, jumped in on a fight with the parent that was started by another person. The report states that Martinez kicked and punched the father, who said he temporarily lost his hearing during the altercation.

The dad suffered a broken finger, and scratches to his head and arm were still visible when investigators talked to him recently.

The report states that Martinez told players several times during the 2015-16 season that he knew some of their parents talked to Gutierrez about him, adding “I know who they are.” It also indicated that Martinez demanded “unquestioning obedience from students in his classes and on his teams, brooking no dissent or challenge to his demands or behavior while, simultaneously, using his ‘winning record’ as a coach to flout applicable state and local regulations, policies and standards as well as well as specific instructions from his supervisors.”

Investigators also revealed Martinez was not above making veiled threats to supervisors. Board member Ruben Archuleta, an ardent opponent of Martinez, said in the report that he and his 7-year-old son encountered Martinez in an Española hardware store after the coach’s dismissal, and Martinez stuck his chest out with a menacing look and whispered, “Watch out!”

The report states that his son starting crying and asked his father to call the police. It also indicated that the son then slept with his parents for the next three or four days and is still terrified when his dad leaves home.

A conversation between Martinez and then-principal Leslie Romero-Kilmer turned unpleasant when Martinez, smacking his hand repeatedly with a plastic bat, told her, “You know, I’m really a nice guy, but if anyone ever crosses me, they better watch out, because I will come out fighting. If anyone crosses me, they’re going to be sorry.”

He later repeated, “If anyone ever crosses me, they better watch out” twice to Romero-Kilmer, who said she felt the statement was directed at her and possibly Gutierrez.

Romero-Kilmer confirmed that the incident happened as reported, and added that she felt it was not the first time Martinez acted in such a manner to superiors.

“They say that the best indicator of future behavior is your prior behavior,” Romero-Kilmer said. “It is something that he will do again.”

Contact James Barron at 505-986-3045 or jbarron@sfnewmexican.com.

The Santa Fe New Mexican is a sister newspaper of The Taos News.

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