Ex-Española coach settles with state, severs ties with district

Richard Martinez

Former Española Valley High School coach Richard Martinez has agreed to resign from the school district, not teach for a year and surrender his coaching license under a settlement with the state Public Education Department.

Martinez, the long-time boys basketball coach who led the school to two state titles but was accused of abusing the power that success brought him, faced allegations of bullying and intimidating players, other students, staff members and parents.

“Students deserve to be safe in school and there are no exceptions,” Public Education Department spokeswoman Lida Alikhani said in a statement Monday evening. “The behavior of Martinez is not acceptable and this settlement reflects that.”

Martinez said he agreed to the settlement in order to bring closure to the matter but would not comment about any of the allegations regarding his behavior as a coach and teacher.

“First and foremost, it’s just an unfortunate situation for everybody, for myself, for my family, the PED and the Española community,” Martinez said. “I was proud to coach the Sundevils for as long as I did. I had a great career.”

In a letter Monday to Española Public Schools interim Superintendent Denise Johnston, Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera wrote that Martinez agreed to surrender his coaching license with an option to re-apply for it “down the line with no assurances of a particular outcome.”

Española school board President Ruben Archuleta said the department revoked Martinez’s coaching license for two years but he can re-apply for it in 2019.

Skandera’s letter also said that Martinez agreed to resign from the school district, effective June 30, and to never seek employment or seek a contract with the school district. He also cannot be an employee for a contractor of Española Public Schools.

Martinez received a one-year suspension of his teaching license, followed by a year of probation during which he cannot violate any of the Public Education Department’s standards of professional conduct, as well as any school district or charter school policies at any place he teaches.

The settlement between Martinez and the department follows a controversy involving Martinez that has stretched for more than a year.

In August 2016, the Public Education Department released a scathing 47-page report about Martinez’s behavior, painting a portrait of a man who humiliated players, staff and parents to win games and maintain his position as an athletic majordomo in the Española Valley.

The report said Martinez urged two students who had a dispute to fight one another in the locker room to resolve their differences. He then watched video of the fight with other students, the report said.

The report included a notice of action that said the education department had enough information to suspend or revoke the license of — or take other disciplinary action against — Martinez. It gave Martinez 20 days to dispute the allegations and request an administrative hearing to respond to the charges.

The department had scheduled a public hearing for Martinez for later this month. Martinez’s lawyer, Sam Bregman, said the allegations were “politically motivated and not based on fact.”

Martinez coached the basketball program for 13 years and had a 253-133 record. He led the team to state titles in 2011 and 2016 and six semifinal appearances.

Martinez was fired four times by Española school administrators but won back his job.

Johnston, the interim schools superintendent, said she had not yet reviewed the letter from Skandera but would do so Tuesday. She had no further comment.

Archuleta, the school board president, sent The New Mexican a statement via text message, saying, “With the NMPED decision, Española Public Schools and the community can begin to heal old wounds and return our focus to educating students. In sports or in the classroom, our students deserve a safe and positive learning environment.”

For the Public Education Department, the state Attorney General’s Office and others, Martinez’s behavior represented that of a stereotypical small-town player who uses threats, abuse and success to gain and hold a position of power.

Former Española Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez fired Martinez in April 2016 following a district investigation into allegations that he had bullied players and parents. That decision prompted the Public Education Department to investigate complaints that Martinez has taken part in a pattern of abusive behavior over the past few years.

The school board pressured Gutierrez to resign the same day she fired Martinez. The board then hired Eric Martinez — no relation to Richard — to run the district. He rehired Richard Martinez, prompting outrage and criticism from parents and players.

A lawsuit filed by the parents of four former basketball players alleges that Martinez and his brother Eric Martinez — not the superintendent — physically assaulted at least one student and a student’s father during a summer 2015 confrontation.

Parents also allege their sons were cut from the basketball team because they and their sons talked to the Public Education Department about the behavior of the Martinez brothers.

Prior to arriving in Española, Richard Martinez coached at Mora and Coronado.

Education reporter Robert Nott contributed to the story.