A sixth civil lawsuit involving sexual abuse allegations has been filed against USA Swimming and others, while a settlement was reached in the initial 2010 case.
The latest lawsuit was filed by attorney Jonathan Little in Marion County (Indiana) Superior Court on behalf of a teenage girl. It involves former Lawrence Swim Team coach Christopher Wheat, who pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with the 14-year-old female, a swimmer on the team, in 2010. He is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.
This lawsuit is similar to others pending against USA Swimming, the first of which was recently settled.
That case — filed in Santa Clara County (Calif.) Superior Court by San Jose attorney B. Robert Allard on behalf of another teenage girl — alleged that since 1993, 32 swim coaches across the nation allegedly have abused their athletes. Allard also is working with Little.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. However, Allard said, “My client is relieved that this matter is behind her, but finds the most satisfaction in the fact that, through this lawsuit and the media attention that followed, USA Swimming was forced to completely overhaul its child protection laws...”
The new lawsuit alleges that individuals within USA Swimming, Indiana Swimming and Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township were aware of inappropriate actions by Wheat and did nothing in response.
It calls for the resignation or firing of USA Swimming’s executive director, Chuck Wielgus, and others, including John Diercks, former Lawrence coach, and Amanda Juntenen Cox, a coach at McCutcheon High School. Plaintiffs contend that Diercks received complaints about Wheat as early as 2001, along with others in positions of authority at Indiana Swimming and USA Swimming, and no one took the matter to law enforcement. Diercks denied involvement to the Indianapolis Star Tribune. Cox and school officials gave no comment in initial reports.
Text messages from 2009 between Wheat and Cox were submitted as evidence in the criminal trial, and show that Wheat revealed his relationship with the girl to Cox at that time.
“Knowing what we know now, the pattern is all too familiar,” Allard said.
Regarding this latest lawsuit, USA Swimming legal counsel released the following statement: “The lawsuit, as filed, does not allege wrongdoing by any USA Swimming employee. ...
“USA Swimming was first alerted to abuse by Chris Wheat when he was arrested in October 2009. Upon learning of the arrest, USA Swimming immediately implemented the process to expel and permanently ban Chris Wheat from USA Swimming, which was accomplished in December 2009. The review system in this case worked expeditiously and effectively to remove Wheat permanently from the membership.
“USA Swimming has developed one of the most comprehensive Athlete Protection Programs among Olympic Sports. [It] includes mandatory background checks for all coach and non-athlete members, a Code of Conduct governing all members, a mandatory reporting requirement in instances of sexual misconduct, a public listing of those suspended from the organization for life and a system for reporting complaints.”