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Staples coach charged with giving freshman football players porn access

Westport News
Updated 6:59 am, Friday, November 18, 2011

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  • Mike Pickering. Photo: Contributed Photo
    Mike Pickering. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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An assistant coach of the Staples High School football team was charged Thursday with risk of injury to minors in connection with an investigation into complaints that he gave players an access code to a pornographic website.

The coach, Mike Pickering, 40, of Norwalk, was "removed" from his post, according to school officials Wednesday.

Pickering, an assistant coach of the freshman football team, is also an employee of the high school's maintenance department as a heating/ventilation and air-conditioning technician for 10 years.

He turned himself in at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and was formally charged with three counts of risk of injury to a minor. Each charge is a felony. His bond was set at $50,000. He is scheduled to appear Nov. 28 in Norwalk Superior Court.

Attempts to reach Pickering earlier in the day for comment at his home and by text message were not successful.

His lawyer, James Saraceni, had no comment as Pickering was booked at Westport Police Department headquarters.

Pickering has been on the Staples coaching staff for nine seasons, according to his school biography. He also has coached freshman lacrosse.

School officials Thursday steadfastly declined comment on the matter, saying it remains in police hands.

A spokesman for Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon said he would not be available for any followup inquiries regarding Pickering's status at the school, or the timeliness of school officials' alerting police to the incident.

Westport Police Capt. Sam Arciola said an investigation into the allegations was launched Wednesday after questions were posed by a news outlet.

After police received the inquiry, Arciola said, school officials were contacted Wednesday and then provided police with information regarding a complaint they received that a coach provided players with access to a pornographic website. All pertinent information was then turned over to investigating police detectives, he said.

Arciola said Thursday that several players had apparently accessed the pornographic website using the access code, although he said he had "no information" about the type of pornography on the site.

Police executed a search-and-seizure warrant at Pickering's home Wednesday night, Arciola said, and during that time he said Pickering told investigators that there were "issues" on the football team and he had provided the website access number as a way to "create camaraderie among members of the team."

In a brief letter emailed to parents Wednesday morning, Landon wrote: "We have been informed that a freshman football coach allegedly gave access code information to a pornographic site to some members of the freshman football team.

"We are investigating this matter fully and are working with the Westport Police Department as part of our investigation.

"We have removed the coach from any contact with students or players," the letter concludes.

In forwarding Landon's note to parents, Staples Principal John Dodig called the matter involving the coach "serious," but added, "Since it is a personnel matter, I cannot embellish upon the statement.

"Please know that our preliminary investigation was thorough and quick, and that a decision was made within hours of our receiving the information. It is now in the hands of the Westport Police Department."

Police detectives visited Staples High School and interviewed a number of freshman football players Wednesday.

Staples head football coach Marce Petroccio on Wednesday had no comment on the matter.

Landon on Thursday declined to expand on his earlier email, saying only, "Our obligation, first and foremost, is the health, safety and welfare of our students. Toward that end, we are committed to taking whatever action may be necessary to achieve that objective."

Dodig on Thursday also said he could not comment.

However, in a report posted Wednesday on the website of Inklings, the Staples student newspaper, Dodig said that a student who is not on the football team reportedly overheard information about the allegation and reported it to a member of the Staples staff, who then told the school administration.

Dodig was shocked when he heard the news, according to Inklings. The website reported that he recalled thinking, "It can't be true. Who would make a stupid decision like that?"

He also told Inklings that feels the incident has been handled correctly.

"I'm very proud of everyone, starting with the student who recognized it was serious," Inklings quoted Dodig as saying. "It would have been very easy to walk away."

Carlos Garcia, the parent of a player on the Staples girls soccer team, said Wednesday before Pickering's arrest that it was "shocking to get an email like that" concerning the allegations. "I hope it's not true and it's a misunderstanding," but if it is true, "the lack of judgment is amazing."

Garcia added, "It's a shame, especially with what's going on at Penn State. It's amazing considering the coach is a mentor. It's possible he wants to be one of the boys and fit in with the boys, but it's shocking he'd put himself in this position, considering he's a mentor for kids."

As for the incident's broader impact, he said, "You don't want this to overshadow all the positives Staples football has done."