By Tonya Malinowski and Melissa Traynor
A former CCSU cross country athlete has filed a lawsuit against the university, seeking at least $15,000 in damages after his coach allegedly made him drink blood and, along with teammates, harassed him on several other occasions from 2005 to 2008.
Charles Ngetich, a Kenyan student studying in the United States on a student visa, was attending Central on full NCAA scholarship. He was withdrawn from the university in the beginning of this academic semester due to outstanding loans after he was removed from the track team and lost his scholarship in fall 2007.
According to a source close to the matter, who only agreed to speak to The Recorder on condition of anonymity, Ngetich approached the CCSU Office of Diversity and Equity in January 2009 due to financial stress. The source said Ngetich originally went to the office because he was afraid he could not pay for tuition without a scholarship.
The CCSU office of Diversity is a program for monitoring affirmative action procedures on campus. Dr. Moises Salinas, CCSU’s chief diversity officer, refused to comment.
When the Office of Diversity’s staff became concerned and decided to press the issue further for investigation, Ngetich opened up and reported that he was harassed by former track and cross country coach George Kawecki. The coach, who retired this past summer after a 23-year career with track and field and cross country at CCSU, is listed as another defendant in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Sept. 14 in the New Britain Superior Court, details a series of interactions between Ngetich, Kawecki and other cross country team members from 2005 to 2007, when Ngetich was kicked off the cross country team.
Ngetich’s attorney Josephine Miller could not be reached for comment.
According to the lawsuit, around October or November of 2005, Kawecki told Ngetich that he saw a documentary where an ethnic group in Kenya drank blood as a tribal ritual and would like to see him drink blood. Ngetich refused, and two weeks later Kawecki produced a cup of blood at a team meeting, telling Ngetich to drink it because he was “too thin [and] needed calcium.”
Feeling he had no other option, Ngetich drank the blood in the presence of Kawecki and approximately 10 other team members. In the following weeks, Kawecki gave Ngetich additional bottles of blood to take home and drink, but Ngetich affirms that he only discarded the bottles.
The lawsuit also states that Kawecki continued to harass or publicly embarrass Ngetich and outlined specific incidents that reach beyond December 2006. At a team practice, a former female teammate had a puppy on a leash. Kawecki allegedly pointed to the puppy and asked Ngetich, “How many people can you feed with this?”
Also cited in the suit is an incident that occurred at a cross country team barbecue at Kawecki’s home in New Britain, where a hot dog was dropped on the ground and a member of the team said “he’s from Africa – Charles can eat that.”
The source close to Ngetich’s case stated that Ngetich’s bouts of depression and declining performance in academics and on the cross country team is a direct result of the two and a half years of abuse and embarrassment by Kawecki.
When the athletics department became concerned, they removed Ngetich from the cross country team through Kawecki in the fall of 2007. The source said that when they had reason enough to kick him off the team, it became convenient for the department to “throw him away like a piece of garbage.”
With the exception of directing inquiries to university spokesperson Mark McLaughlin, administrative officials, including the office of Student Affairs and those surrounding, have been instructed not to speak to press regarding the issue.
CCSU’s marketing and communications office released a statement saying that because CCSU is committed to diversity, they are “especially pained” that they cannot comment on the matter and have redirected the issue to the Attorney General’s office.
“The University and its employees are bound by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and we cannot and should not violate the student’s right to privacy,” McLaughlin’s email read. “…We welcome this process through which all of the facts of the case will come out.”
The suit was served on the Attorney General’s Office Sept. 4, the same day that Ngetich was withdrawn from all of his classes.
Though the lawsuit made its way to Blumenthal’s office earlier, the Attorney General said last Friday that his office had not yet committed to looking into it.
“We haven’t yet become involved or reviewed the legal papers, ” Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. “We have no plans to make a statement.”
The lawsuit states that Ngetich has an East Hartford address. If he was not withdrawn from the university this semester, Ngetich would have been on course to graduate in May 2010.