U.S. Paralympic Cycling leaders have stepped in to assist with U.S. Para Swimming after a lawsuit filed Friday left the organization reeling from allegations of negligence.
The civil complaint in Colorado district court claims that both the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and U.S. Center for SafeSport ignored accusations of misconduct against Robert Griswold when pairing the 25-year-old world record holder with an autistic teammate last summer at the Tokyo Paralympics. The 19-year-old teammate, who has the “mental capacity of a 5-year-old,” was allegedly groomed and sexually assaulted over the next year starting in Tokyo and continuing at the Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“Defendants USOPC and SafeSport had actual knowledge of multiple prior instances, or at minimum credible allegations, of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse perpetrated by Griswold, yet turned a blind eye and/or conspired to cover-up such allegations, on each occasion,” the lawsuit said. “Upon information and belief, USOPC and SafeSport’s actions to insulate Griswold and further victimize Plaintiff were due in large part to the fact that Griswold was a premier swimmer, and because Griswold’s family was deeply embedded with leaders throughout the U.S. Paralympic swimming community.”
The USOPC broke its silence on Friday by announcing the placement of two staff members on administrative leave. U.S. Para Swimming director Erin Popovich and associate director Nathan Manley both have automated email responses saying they are on leave.
With newly-hired George Leatherman as the only coach listed on staff, U.S. Para Swimming is receiving temporary assistance from U.S. Para Cycling director Ian Lawless and manager of operations Jenny Ryan. Lawless has run the U.S. Para Cycling program for the past nine years.
“Jenny and I will be working with the Para-swimming program temporarily, to help ensure that support for athletes on the National and Resident team continues, uninterrupted,” Lawless wrote in an email to the team.
Friday’s lawsuit alleged that the “cover-up” is the latest in a string of troubling incidents involving the USOPC and SafeSport.
“Importantly, this is not the first time Defendant USOPC has withheld allegations of abuse; conspired with its affiliated entities (including Defendant SafeSport) to cover-up allegations of abuse; failed to properly supervise its own officers, directors, coaches, and athletes; or allowed physical, verbal, and/or sexual abuse to occur under its nose,” the lawsuit added, citing an ESPN article from 2020. “Many such instances have occurred at the OPTC.”
The U.S. Center for SafeSport released this statement on Friday: “The Center does not comment on matters to protect the integrity of its investigative process.”
A lawyer representing Griswold told SwimSwam last month that he “vehemently denies any wrongdoing.”
Griswold has not been arrested or charged with a crime as of publication.
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed USOPC chief of sport Julie Dussliere as one of the staff members on leave, but a spokesperson told SwimSwam that her current absence from the office is not due to administrative leave.