Report: Coaches Banned from Olympics After Sex Abuse Allegations Still Instructing Kids

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Several Olympic Coaches Banned After Sexual Abuse Allegations Still Working With Children

Several Olympic Coaches Banned After Sexual Abuse Allegations Still Working With Children

May 5, 2022

Numerous individuals previously accused of sexual misconduct with minors or charged with criminal offenses are still working with children, according to a recent NBC News report.

Coaches Banned from Olympics After Sex Abuse Allegations Still Instructing Kids

An investigation by NBC News examined coaches previously disciplined by SafeSport – an independent nonprofit committee. The network uncovered the following:

  • At least 10 individuals appear to still be coaching or working with minors despite having been banned by SafeSport after they were criminally charged with offenses involving sexual misconduct.
  • Another 10 people are still coaching or working with minors after they were banned as a result of a SafeSport investigation or investigation by an Olympic governing body (such as USA Swimming).
  • Five more individuals were found to have coached or trained kids after they were banned but no longer appear to be doing so.

SafeSport was created in 2018 following the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar. Through a joint initiative with Congress and the U.S. Olympic Committee, SafeSport’s purpose is to investigate youth and adult abuse in Olympic-affiliated sports, according to NBC News.

SafeSport can ban coaches from participating in Olympic events or activities – including elite youth programs in sports like soccer, tennis, swimming and volleyball – but it has no jurisdiction over the vast majority of youth sports programs,” NBC News reported.

Approximately 1,400 coaches have been banned by SafeSport. But as NBC News reports, experts say the vast number of “bans” illustrate the vulnerability of the estimated 45 million children who participate in youth sports in the U.S.

If someone has a history of harming someone within the context of sport, they should not be continuing that role,” David Lee, the director of research and evaluation at Raliance, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence, told NBC News. “We want to create systems to be able to ensure that people are safe from harm, and we need to be able to prevent those people from continuing doing that.

How Does SafeSport Work to Protect Child Athletes from Sexual Predators?

SafeSport’s main functions include:

  • To review allegations of sexual misconduct among its adult and youth athletes and impose sanctions on offenders
  • To investigates allegations of bullying, harassment, hazing, physical abuse, and emotional abuse

The organization reportedly has exclusive jurisdiction over sexual abuse complaints in Olympic sports.

However, as NBC News notes, oversight for youth sports is not nearly as stringent when compared to the process of hiring teachers in schools. For example, in many states, schools are required to conduct extensive background checks for incoming teachers. But there are no such state or federal requirements for youth coaches outside of schools, according to NBC News.

Moreover, the following don’t fall under the jurisdiction of SafeSport or laws to prevent child sexual abuse in public schools:

We need some way to better police sports,” Elizabeth Letourneau, the director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told NBC. “It is kind of unfortunate that we have to have sort of bespoke strategies, like this group polices Olympic sports and this group polices public education.

NBC News also confirmed the following relative to SafeSport’s oversight of youth sports:

  • The organization uses a lower threshold than criminal courts when rendering decisions – a preponderance of evidence instead of beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Many people in the database haven’t been criminally charged.
  • The results of investigations are put into an online database, and the discipline can be challenged in arbitration.
  • The organization’s oversight extends through the sports federations affiliated with the U.S. Olympic Committee, from league tournaments supported by USA Bowling to weekend tennis tournaments run under the banner of the U.S. Tennis Association.

According to NBC, “The organization has drawn controversy almost from the start. Athletes, coaches, and senators have criticized the pace of its investigative process and its ability to truly hold people accountable.”

List of People Banned by SafeSport Who Appear to Still be Coaching/Working With Children

NBC outlined a list of various people who were banned by SafeSport for sexual misconduct allegations or charged with criminal offenses involving minors, yet are still reportedly coaching or working with children.

That list includes:

  • James Feltus: Criminally charged in 2005 with several offenses, including abuse, neglect, or endangerment of a child. He pleaded guilty to pandering. Social media pages show that a person with that name works for a youth basketball league in Nevada, the Las Vegas Punishers. (In response to questions from NBC, a James Feltus in Nevada with the same middle name and birthdate as the person banned by SafeSport confirmed he works for the Punishers but said SafeSport put the wrong James Feltus in the database.)
  • Jimmy Baxley: Charged with molesting three family members in February 2019. He now appears to coach youth boxing at Heavy Hitters Boxing Gym in New Jersey. Photos from a newspaper article about his arrest match images on the gym’s website, as well as Facebook and Instagram pages. (Baxley didn’t respond to phone, email, and text messages from NBC.)
  • Thomas Navarro: Convicted in 2000 of sodomy and sexual abuse involving a minor. Navarro now appears to be teaching horseback riding at River Chase Farm in Aldie, Virginia. A mugshot of Navarro matches photos on the farm’s Instagram and Facebook pages. (Navarro told NBC he is suing SafeSport and couldn’t discuss anything at this time.)
  • Robert Barletta: Charged with sexual assault with intent to rape a female coach at a hockey camp. He owns an ice skating rink, Rodman Arena, in Walpole, Massachusetts, according to business filings, and a team in a USA Hockey-affiliated youth league. (Barletta has pleaded not guilty, his attorney, Curt Bletzer, told NBC. “He didn’t do what he’s charged with doing,” Bletzer said.)
  • Ernest Bolen: Pleaded guilty in 1992 to aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving teenagers under the age of 17. A Facebook page for Beardstown Karate Club and Fitness in Beardstown, Illinois, which is in the same county where Bolen was charged, indicates that a man named Ernest Bolen works there. (He didn’t respond to requests for comment from NBC.)
  • Michael Strickland: Charged with offenses involving sexual misconduct. A Facebook page for the Rising Stars Basketball Club in Valdosta, Georgia, identifies a Michael Strickland as a coach, and a league spokesman confirmed it’s the same person as the one in the SafeSport database. (Neither Strickland nor the club responded to requests for comment from NBC.)
  • Heather Adams: Pleaded guilty in 2013 to a charge of aggravated misdemeanor sexual exploitation for having sex with an 18-year-old student who attended the school where she taught chemistry, according to news accounts at the time. The case was handled through a deferred judgment agreement, allowing her to avoid conviction by completing two years of probation. The case was later dismissed. She now runs a hockey league for high school-age players and older – Corridor Hockey Association – in Iowa, according to the organization’s website and state incorporation records. She declined to be interviewed about SafeSport’s action but said in an email to NBC: “This was a decade ago. I’ve been cleared of all wrongdoing, and there is nothing on my record except some speeding tickets.”
  • Anthony DeSilva: Charged in 2012 with numerous offenses, including use of a computer to seduce a child, but pleaded no contest to a single count of unlawful computer usage. He now runs a scouting agency for youth hockey, Top Hockey Prospect, in Acushnet, Massachusetts, his publicist, Gail Sideman, confirmed to NBC.
  • Charlie Mercado: Convicted of misdemeanor child molestation in August 2017 and was ordered not to work with female minors. He now appears to run a youth basketball program, Gamepoint Basketball, in Oceanside, California. A Charlie Mercado is listed on the organization’s website as the founder, and his photo matches a picture that appeared in a local news article about his arrest. (Neither Mercado nor Gamepoint Basketball responded to requests for comment from NBC News.)
  • Peter Kim: Listed in SafeSport’s database as being permanently ineligible to participate in USA Taekwondo; he was also convicted of attempted sexual battery and was a registered sex offender until 2013. However, despite his SafeSport status, Kim reportedly works at Matchpoint Martial Arts in Brunswick, Ohio. He has received glowing reviews from parents on Google, according to NBC. “Master Kim is awesome with all the kids,” one says.

NBC News questioned SafeSport CEO Ju’Riese Colón regarding the above listed individuals. She reportedly said the effort to prevent abuse in sports “requires a commitment from people at all levels.”

“Every sport entity serving minor athletes should follow the CDC guidelines on child safety and adhere to abuse-prevention best practices, including conducting comprehensive background checks, implementing strong safety policies and offering abuse prevention training,” Colón said to NBC.

Colón reportedly also told NBC that SafeSport “strongly recommends that every sports organization review our public Centralized Disciplinary Database when screening coaches and other individuals in a position of authority, particularly those working with minors.”

Additionally, Colon noted that although its jurisdiction is limited, “SafeSport has worked with more than 900 organizations outside the Olympic and Paralympic movement to provide training,” according to NBC.

Dordulian Law Group’s founder and former sex crimes prosecutor, Sam Dordulian, noted that parents whose children participate in athletics should be outraged.

“It’s unconscionable that an organization created to ostensibly protect child athletes from sexual predators allows offenders they have identified to continue working with children. Parents will rightfully be outraged and deserve to have confidence that their children’s coaches are screened and undergo the very same background checks used to hire teachers,” Dordulian said. “There needs to be accountability in all sports where adults are working directly with children.”

The NBC News report also profiles sexual abuse survivors – former child athletes – who have reported crimes to police, but whose perpetrators remain actively engaged in either coaching or working with child athletes.

To read the full NBC News article, please click here.

What is the Child Athlete Bill of Rights?

In July 2021, two non-profit organizations working to end child sexual abuse and support survivors – Child USA and The Army of Survivors – officially announced the launch of the Child Athlete Bill of Rights advocacy campaign. The organizations made an official appeal to all those involved in youth athletics, requesting that they commit to preventing future abuse by adopting four guiding principles within the Child Athlete Bill of Rights.

The four main principles of the Child Athlete Bill of Rights include (under the acronym SAFE):

  • S is for SAY: Children have the right to say no at any time
  • A is for ACT: Children have the right to disclose to an adult when they feel uncomfortable
  • F is for FEEL: Children need to have the space and support to express their feelings
  • E is for EDUCATION: Children and their caregivers need to be educated about what abuse is and how they can report it

To read more about the Child Athlete Bill of Rights, please visit our recent blog.

How Long Do I Have to File a California Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?

The California statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse crimes is temporarily paused under Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218). AB 218, which took effect on January 1, 2020, tolls (pauses) the statute of limitations on all childhood sexual abuse through the end of 2022.

While AB 218 is in effect, any survivor of childhood sexual abuse or assault may file a civil claim seeking financial compensation until December 31, 2022. However, as of January 1, 2023, the standard statute of limitations will resume, and survivors who did not file claims will likely be left without any future legal recourse or ability to pursue financial compensation for various damages.

Additionally, California AB 218 features a treble damages clause which allows the courts latitude to triple financial damages awards in cases where cover-ups are proven.

For example, if you are a sexual abuse survivor who was victimized through a systemic cover-up (at either an individual or institutional level), and that wrongdoing was proved in court, a $10 million damages award could theoretically be increased to $30 million under the AB 218 treble damages clause.

AB 218’s treble damages clause was included in the bill in an effort to severely punish bad actors who participated in systemic cover-ups. Such cover-ups often took place over the course of several decades in organizations including the Boy Scouts of America and Catholic Church, and have consequently impacted countless innocent survivors. Despite the rampant abuse at a systemic level, AB 218 offers all survivors an opportunity at justice.

For additional information on California AB 218 and how it offers survivors of childhood sexual abuse an unprecedented opportunity at justice, please visit our recent blog post.

What Damages Can be Recovered in a Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?

A California childhood sexual abuse civil lawsuit may be filed in an effort to recover financial compensation for various types of losses. Depending on the circumstances of childhood sex crime, compensatory damages may be pursued and recovered through a civil claim.

Some common damages that may be secured through a California childhood sexual assault or abuse civil claim include:

  • Counseling or therapy expenses
  • Emotional trauma
  • Psychological distress
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Hospital or medical expenses

Although children impacted by sexual abuse are currently eligible to file civil claims regardless of when a crime occurred, the statute of limitations is different for adult survivors of sexual violence.

For adult sexual assault survivors, the California statute of limitations on sex crimes allows you to file a civil claim up to 10 years after an incident. Moreover, the statute of limitations for adult sex crimes allows for a three-year window in civil claims where sexual assaults lead to the discovery of a psychological injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Free Los Angeles, California, Child Sexual Abuse Lawyer Consultation

Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is a proven California-based firm with decades of experience successfully handling childhood sexual abuse claims. We represent survivors throughout California as well as across the United States. DLG offers child sex abuse survivors a unique type of legal representation which includes a four-tiered team of professionals known as the SAJE Team.

Led by Sam Dordulian, a former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, DLG’s experienced childhood sexual abuse lawyers have helped countless survivors secure maximum financial damages awards.

If you experienced a sexual assault incident, don’t wait to file a claim. Contact our expert attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Some of our recent sex crime civil lawsuit victories include:

For a free and confidential consultation regarding your child sex abuse civil claim, contact a member of DLG’s SAJE Team today at 818-322-4056. DLG’s childhood sex crime attorneys have helped victims recover more than $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts while maintaining a 98% success record.

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