Warrant details 'choke hold' Jonathan Law teacher allegedly placed on student
A Jonathan Law High School math teacher who told police he put his arm around a student’s neck to redirect him to his class work has been arrested and charged with third degree assault and second degree breach of peace.
The teacher, Mark Ruzbarsky, 32, of Milford was arrested July 3 on a warrant for the incident that reportedly took place at Jonathan Law High School Feb. 24.
An arrest warrant includes testimony from the teacher, who describes a somewhat goofing-around exchange between himself and the student, and testimony from the student, which describes a more violent exchange involving a “choke hold.”
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, the student arrived late for school that day and went right to his second period algebra class with Ruzbarsky.
During class, students were given a packet to work on in groups of three or four. The student in question was working with three others who, according to the report, were chatting and not getting to work as quickly as the other groups. That’s when the teacher went up to them and told them to get to work.
The teacher told investigators that when he returned to the group a second time, he saw that the juvenile was not paying attention to his work, and said he then came up from behind the juvenile and placed his hands on the juvenile victim’s shoulders.
“Mark Ruzbarsky stated at that time he did put his left arm around the juvenile victim’s neck, at which point the juvenile victim appeared to play act like he was knocked out and went somewhat limp, putting his head down to the right side against Mark Ruzbarsky’s arm,” the warrant states.
The teacher told investigators that he did squeeze his arm but not hard enough to knock someone out.
“Mark Ruzbarsky stated that he then tapped the juvenile victim on the triceps with his hand, and the juvenile victim raised his head and smiled at him,” according to the report.
Then the teacher walked away to help other students.
The juvenile told police a similar story, but different in the level of force used. He told police that the teacher came up behind him and put his left arm around his neck and right arm on his head, and then started to squeeze his neck and pushed his head down “with his esophagus against Mark Ruzbarsky’s forearm,” according to the police report.
The juvenile told investigators that when he was put in the choke hold he had trouble breathing and thought he was going to pass out. He also said the teacher repeated the action a second time.
Later in the school day, the student saw his guidance counselor and told her what happened. She took him to the school nurse and others, and according to the police report, school officials said he had minor scrapes on his neck.
When Ruzbarsky talked to police, he said his watch may have caused the scratches.
Later, the boy’s mother took him to Milford Hospital, where an emergency room doctor treated him for contusions to his neck, according to the arrest warrant.
There were two other adults in the classroom when the alleged incident took place, but they told police they were in the front of the class and didn’t see the teacher put the student in a choke hold.
The three students in the juvenile’s group that day were interviewed also.
“All three of the students indicate that they did observe Mark Ruzbarsky put the juvenile victim in what was described as a headlock or wrestling-type move,” the report states. “Two students stated that when Mark Ruzbarsky put his arm around the juvenile victim’s neck, they observed the juvenile victim’s face get red.”
The juvenile also told police that he thinks Ruzbarsky is a good teacher, but he “does touch kids in class to get their attention.”
The teacher told police he only put his arm around the juvenile to get his attention and re-direct him to do his work, and that he did not intend to harm the boy.
“Mark Ruzbarsky also stated he has not intentionally hurt any student,” the arrest warrant states. “Mark Ruzbarsky states that he has had physical contact with students in the past such as a tap on the arm or head to get the student’s attention.”
School officials placed Ruzbarsky on administrative leave after the incident, but according to School Spokeswoman Kathy Bonetti he is not on administrative leave now and is still a school employee.
“Beyond that we can’t say more because it is a personnel matter,” Bonetti said.
Ruzbarsky was released on a promise to appear in court on July 29.
According to the school website, Ruzbarsky is the assistant wrestling coach.
He is reportedly a popular teacher. Students started a petition when Ruzbarsky was placed on administrative leave about four months ago.
Titled “We Love Ruz,” the petition states, “Ruzbarsky is one of the best teachers we've ever had. We started this petition because we think he doesn’t deserve to be punished for such an extended period of time. He engages students in math even if they aren't strong in that subject. He is always there for us when we need help, and is a good friend of all of us. He keeps us in a good mood and understands how us teenagers work. He understands when we need more work and when the workload is too much. We want Ruz back.”