St. Paul dad charged with attacking Inver Grove Heights hockey coach

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 22, 2011 - 11:57 PM

Thomas A. Tonda allegedly choked coach after son was disciplined for fighting at Inver Grove Heights rink.

Thomas A. Tonda.

Angered that his son had been disciplined for fighting on the ice, a St. Paul man allegedly choked the boy's assistant hockey coach until he began to black out.

Thomas A. Tonda, 49, faces one count of terroristic threats, a felony, and one count of fifth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, in connection with the Dec. 6 attack during a youth hockey practice in Inver Grove Heights. He appeared in court on Thursday.

It's the second incidence of violence at a south-metro youth sporting event this month. On Dec. 10, Steven O. Wilson, 52, of Eagan, allegedly punched his eighth-grade son in the face after the youth's basketball team lost a youth tournament in Lakeville. Wilson has been charged with malicious punishment of a child and child neglect, both gross misdemeanors, as well as fifth-degree domestic assault. His first court appearance is set for Jan. 3.

According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday against Tonda in Dakota County District Court:

Officers contacted the victim, an assistant coach for a team composed of kids from South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights, on Dec. 7, the day after the alleged incident at the Inver Grove Heights west rink. The coach said that three players, including Tonda's son, got into an altercation on the ice. Tonda's son made a comment about not getting to skate enough and swung his hockey stick like a baseball bat, hitting one of the other players.

The coach said he pulled Tonda's son aside and told him his behavior was not acceptable and that it could eventually lead to him breaking someone's legs or hurting them. The coach said he told Tonda's son to return to practice but the boy skated off the ice instead and went into the locker room.

Tonda followed his son, then returned to the penalty box and "started screaming at the victim to 'Get over here,'" the complaint said. When the coach approached, Tonda started yelling and screaming, then when the coach told him "to stop and go home," Tonda put him in a stranglehold, the complaint said.

The coach told officers that he began to black out.

Another coach rushed to the victim's aid and was eventually able to free him. As Tonda left the area, the complaint said, he shouted "I'm gonna [expletive] kill you," and "I'm gonna [expletive] choke you out."

The complaint does not identify the victim or Tonda's son. Tonda did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.

He is on probation from a first-degree felony drug possession conviction from March 2009. In that case, the judge stayed a seven-year sentence for five years. He is scheduled for a probation violation hearing on March 26. He also was convicted of having an open bottle of alcohol in a vehicle in February 2009.

'A new phenomenon'

Some experts say episodes of violence among adults at youth sporting events are becoming an increasingly serious problem. In February 2009, after a youth basketball coordinator was assaulted after a sixth-grade tournament in Burnsville, Bill Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, called it "a new phenomenon. This did not occur on this kind of scale as far as we know in past decades."

But on Thursday, Doug Hartmann, a professor of sociology at the U, said he's a little surprised there aren't more such incidents.

"Sports is an arena that generates a lot of emotion and creates a lot of conflicts," Hartmann said. But, he said, "I'd have to see several of these in the same environment before I'd even be willing to talk about a trend or a pattern.

"These are the kinds of things that happen in a world that isn't perfect," he said. "Pretty regularly."

However, he said, that doesn't mean that the incidents should be condoned or that "we shouldn't try to understand and prevent them."

Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252

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