Friday’s scheduled meeting between Garden City Community College officials and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and the mother of former GCCC football player Braeden Bradforth, who died after a practice in August 2018, has been postponed as the two sides differ on the scope of the meeting.
In a letter addressed to GCCC President Ryan Ruda, a copy of which was obtained by The Telegram, Smith accuses college officials of misconstruing their intentions for the meeting.
Smith, Joanne Atkins-Ingram — Bradforth's mother — and her lawyer, Jill Greene, were set to meet with Ruda and other college staff and representation on Friday, expecting to discuss details and information found within an internal review the college said was conducted after Bradforth’s death.
An autopsy report found that Bradforth died of exertional heat stroke after an evening football practice. He was found unresponsive outside of the GCCC dorms about 30 minutes after the practice ended, according to medical records, and was subsequently taken to St. Catherine Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
But Atkins-Ingram and Greene have expressed their desire for more information into the circumstances surrounding Bradforth’s death, and the college had, up until this week, declined to provide further information, citing a threat of a lawsuit.
Smith then joined the call for more information at the end of March, publicly asking the college to commission an independent investigation into Bradforth’s death, and to release the internal review in full.
Atkins-Ingram and Greene were hoping Friday’s meeting would shed new light on Bradforth’s death and potentially address their desire for an external investigation.
However, in a letter Smith sent to Ruda, a copy of which was sent to The Telegram by Greene, Smith said that GCCC’s lawyer, Randy Grisell, contradicted Smith’s understanding of the meeting’s scope, indicating that the information regarding the review would be limited. That prompted Smith to postpone the meeting indefinitely.
“Ms. Atkins-Ingram needs to know that there will be an honest, forthright conversation that enables her to ask basic questions and receive insights and answers,” Smith wrote in the letter. “When you are ready, when you have a clear consensus that GCCC can be transparent, we will eagerly reschedule.”
The intention of Grisell’s communication with Smith, the college stated Wednesday, was to “clarify for both parties the possibility that some of Ms. Atkins-Ingram’s questions may not be answered in a face-to-face meeting, due to potential litigation,” said GCCC spokeswoman Ashley Salazar.
Salazar said the college would discuss “the summary of the internal review and will honestly answer the questions that Ms. Atkins-Ingram presents, provided that legal counsel advises such answers.”
In Smith’s letter, he claims that in two separate conversations between Ruda and him and Ruda and Smith’s chief of Staff on April 11, Ruda agreed to “discuss the internal review that had been conducted, including witness observations and that you would consider sharing the review with Braeden’s mom, Joanne Atkins-Ingram.”
Smith said in the letter that the later communication with Grisell changed “the parameters of the meeting to which (GCCC) first agreed to host."
“We’re very disappointed,” Greene said Tuesday about what she viewed as the college contradicting itself. “I was just seconds away from purchasing a non-refundable ticket to Kansas, and then their counsel apparently contradicted the conversation with Dr. Ruda and the congressman (Smith).”
Salazar said the college is “eager to reschedule a visit with Ms. Atkins-Ingram. In the meantime, Ms. Atkins-Ingram is welcome to submit any questions to the college for review by legal counsel.
“A face-to-face meeting is an opportunity for both Ms. Atkins-Ingram and the GCCC Administration to discuss the summary of the information gathered during the internal review and for the college to hear directly from Ms. Atkins-Ingram.”
Neither Ruda nor Grisell responded to phone messages and emails seeking comment.
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at email@example.com.