A civil lawsuit has been filed against USA Swimming and other organizations on behalf of a 15-year-old girl who was abused by her swim coach. The suit alleges that dozens of coaches and officials affiliated with the organization sexually abused young athletes across the nation and that USA Swimming failed to do proper background screening.
The civil suit follows the criminal conviction of Andrew King, former head swim coach of San Jose Aquatics, who was charged with sex abuse in Jan and sentenced to 40 years in prison. According to the amended lawsuit, since 1993, 32 coaches have allegedly abused their athletes across the nation. In conjunction with the lawsuit, Deena Deerdurff Smith, a 1972 Gold medal swimmer, has since gone public with her own story of abuse.
In a press conference the day after the amended lawsuit was filed, Deerdurff Smith alleged she was molested in the 1960s by a coach over a four year period starting at age 11. Deerdurff Smith has not named the coach but says he has since been elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame. She claimed she first attempted to file a complaint with USA Swimming in the 1980s but the organization told her she needed to find another coach to corroborate her story.
Deerdurff Smith is represented by Attorney Robert Allard, who filed the lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court. In addition to USA Swimming, the suit names King, and Pacific Swimming, the West Coast Branch of USA Swimming.
The lawsuit alleges that USA Swimming has been negligent in its responsibility to provide proper background screenings of coaches, according to Ed Vasquez a spokesman for Corsiglia McMahon & Allard LLP, Allard’s firm, located in San Jose. A policy was implemented in 2006, but there are holes in that policy, said Vasquez.
“King had complaints going back 20 years in California and Washington state,” Vasquez added. “At the time King was hired [in San Jose] in 2000, there was no background screening. Any effective background screening would have resulted in phone calls to his previous swim clubs. Had they talked to other swimmers that he had coached it would have become clear. The reason that there was no policy in place and why King made it through is that there’s a culture of looking the other way in USA Swimming.”
When asked for comment, USA Swimming deferred to the following pre-released statement:
As a youth organization, the safety and well-being of our members is paramount and USA Swimming takes allegations of coach misconduct very seriously.
We have several layers of protection in place to protect our athletes from inappropriate behavior, and we are continuously evaluating these policies to ensure a safe, positive environment for our 300,000 members.
These policies are as follows:
Every coach member or prospective coach member must pass a comprehensive background screen as a condition of membership.
Our code of conduct prohibits abusive behavior including, but not limited to, inappropriate sexual activity.
We have a reporting system in place to register complaints and an internal hearing body to review these complaints and expel members in the case that an abuse does occur.
It also published a more lengthy open letter to USA Swimming members on its Web site.