The family and friends of former Garden City Community College football player Braeden Bradforth, who died of heat stroke in August 2018 after a practice, feel they have few options left in their search for more information about the night of Bradforth’s death.
After Bradforth’s family's repeated attempts to obtain information from the college’s internal review of his death were denied, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) penned a letter to GCCC President Ryan Ruda on March 22 asking for the college to “commission a thorough and independent investigation into the tragic death of Braeden Bradforth.”
Ruda denied that request, as well.
“Due to the KSA12-105B Notice of Claim, the college is not at liberty to respond on the matter. Recent correspondence has gone through the college attorney, Mr. Randy Grisell. At this time, Mr. Grisell is limited in the additional comments he can make, as the claim has been turned over to the college’s liability insurance carrier to handle,” the email to Smith read, the exact same wording the college has used in several other instances of outside entities requesting more information about Bradforth's death and the review.
The Telegram had asked GCCC for the response to Smith on March 28, but didn't receive it from the college. The Telegram submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the college for the email on Monday, but also received a copy of the email from Jill Greene, a lawyer representing Bradforth's family.
The email from Ruda prompted Smith to hold a news conference Friday afternoon in New Jersey, Bradforth's home state, where he expressed outrage at Ruda’s response.
“I think that’s, frankly, outrageous,” Smith said at Friday's news conference, which he held alongside Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, and Greene.
“It should have been a given that the college would be absolutely transparent because they bragged about that in the beginning,” Smith said, referring to Ruda’s statements that he would bring transparency to the college during his time as interim president and after being named president.
“That (response from Ruda) is such a legalistic (response), and I think both a rude and condescending response,” Smith said. “A mom wants to know what happened to her son — she’s asked and asked persistently, right from the get-go, as is her right.”
That’s why Greene said she and Atkins-Ingram weren't surprised by the college’s response.
“Are we disappointed? Yes, we’re extremely disappointed, but we’re not surprised,” Greene said. “This has been the position the college and their counsel has taken from day one.”
Bradford died on Aug. 1, after GCCC’s first practice of the fall schedule. He was found unresponsive outside of the GCCC dorms about 30 minutes after the practice ended, according to medical records. He was taken to St. Catherine Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The subsequent autopsy report concluded he had died of heat stroke, a condition that a former team physician for the University of Oklahoma, Randy Eichner, said should never occur in college football because it is identifiable and treatable.
The college announced shortly after the release of the autopsy report that it was conducting an internal review, which was "intended to ensure that the college can transparently inform the community, the media, and — most importantly — Braeden’s family of the accurate facts and circumstances surrounding Braeden’s death," a statement from GCCC spokeswoman Ashley Salazar said.
Greene said she and Atkins-Ingram have tried to be patient, hoping the college eventually would live up to its promise and provide the information from its internal review.
“When Joanne first came to me, it wasn’t about filing a lawsuit, it wasn’t about dollars and cents, it was about getting answers, and we’re still holding onto hope that the college will provide those,” she said.
But that hope is dwindling, Greene said.
Grisell said in February that because Atkins-Ingram said she planned to sue in the days after the release of Bradforth’s autopsy report, the college was treating the situation as an adversarial claim, and the college’s review of Bradforth’s death was considered attorney work product. Subsequently, none of that review has been made public.
Atkins-Ingram and Greene also asked to see the surveillance video footage from the college from the night Bradforth died, but Greene said the college told her the video had been overwritten.
When asked on March 27 about Greene’s claim, the college provided the same response to The Telegram that Ruda subsequently sent to Smith.
Now, Greene is hosting a community meeting at a church in New Jersey, which she expects will include more than 100 people.
“When they learned the video had been overwritten, there was a cry for justice,” Greene said. “I invited people to my office, and 50 people crammed into my office. That’s when I knew we needed a different venue" to fit more people into a meeting.
“They want to know what’s being done and how they can help,” Greene said.
Greene said that every time the college declines to provide more information, her options become more limited.
“If they’re going to treat a congressman that way, it’s becoming crystal clear we have no choice. We tried to be reasonable, we tried to avoid litigation,” she said. “That’s not what they want, apparently. It seems they’re taking the position ‘bring it on,’ so we will."
Greene hasn't yet filed a lawsuit and didn't say whether one was imminent.
Several telephone calls to Ruda on Monday and Tuesday and an email to GCCC spokeswoman Salazar seeking comment for this story weren't returned.
But during Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting, Ruda told The Telegram that the college is "working internally to determine how it is that we can best address the questions that are coming forth."
He declined to say what specifically stood in the way of providing more information to Bradforth's family, but that the college would be able to "hopefully soon."
Telegram reporter Amber Friend contributed to this report.
Contact J. Levin Burnfin at firstname.lastname@example.org.