DETROIT - United States Figure Skating has asked the U.S. Center for SafeSport to complete its investigation into allegations against the late John Coughlin and “encouraged” SafeSport to involve a third party in the investigation.
“U.S. Figure Skating believes it is imperative that the Center complete its investigation,” USFS executive director David Raith told a press conference Thursday at the U.S. Championships. “We believe the Center has an obligation to all involved in our (skating) community to do so.
“We also suggested they hire a third-party investigator or outside counsel to handle that. (If there are) any conflicts, having a third party go forth would hopefully settle that matter.”
Added USFS President Anne Cammett: “We believe all parties involved deserve an answer. . .if it just ends, there is not the closure.”
Raith said SafeSport had promised an answer to the USFS requests by the end of this week.
Raith and Cammett’s comments were the first by USFS since it issued a statement of condolences Saturday.
SafeSport spokesman Dan Hill told Globetrotting this week it was “unlikely” the investigation would continue. He said Wednesday “no decision has been made.”
In response to a Thursday email seeking comment on the USFS requests, Hill’s associate, Kate Brannen, did not directly answer the question. She reiterated that the Center has yet to make a decision about the future of the investigation.
“When it comes to sexual misconduct, these cases rely heavily on testimony,” Hill said. “Without one of the parties, how do we do an investigation? He (Coughlin) wouldn’t get to defend himself or to give conflicting testimony. And it’s not certain that the reporting parties would want to participate at this point.”
Asked how he could see an investigation going forward without Coughlin being able to answer allegations against him, Raith said, “We believe the Center has information. They seem to have information (that) they should continue to investigate and make some kind of final determination.”
Raith said USFS did not know whether Coughlin had been able to speak to investigators before SafeSport took interim measures against him.
“That is something for the Center to answer,” Raith said.
Coughlin was placed on restricted status by SafeSport last month and then given an interim suspension last Thursday, all after SafeSport received reports of misconduct involving him. Both the restriction and suspension are interim measures SafeSport can apply while investigating and adjudicating a case.
Coughlin, 33, a two-time national pairs champion, took his own life Friday, according to a post on his sister’s Facebook site.
USA Today reported Sunday that SafeSport had received three reports alleging sexual misconduct by Coughlin and that two involved minors.
Safe Sport’s focus is on sexual misconduct and abuse. Its statistics show that 70 percent of the 1,832 total reports the Center received from March 3, 2017 through November 2018 involved allegations of sexual misconduct or involved misconduct prohibited by the SafeSport Code and “reasonably related” to an underlying allegation of sexual misconduct.
When it receives reports involving minors, SafeSport is compelled to inform local law enforcement or federal authorities if the allegations involve more than one jurisdiction. That should mean law enforcement has been investigating the case.
Jimmie Santee, executive director of the Professional Skaters Association, an organization of figure skating coaches, supported continuing the SafeSport investigation.
“Our first concern is protecting athletes,” Santee said Thursday. “We also want to make sure the process is fair for the people who are our members who are the reporters (of alleged misconduct), and who are the potential victims and maybe even the accused.”
PSA President Christine Fowler-Binder said that her organization is “completely in favor of SafeSport. We would like to understand the process better.”
SafeSport’s standard of proof for interim measures is “reasonable cause.” For final adjudication, it is “preponderance of the evidence,” as in civil or administrative law. SafeSport’s rules expressly state that a person may be found to have committed sexual misconduct punishable under the SafeSport Code even if that person is acquitted of a criminal charge or legal authorities decline to prosecute that person for such conduct.
SafeSport does not follow criminal rules of "due process" but rather what can described as “fair process,” the same protection a college student or employee of a company would get if accused of sexual misconduct by the college or employer.
Asked if USFS were comfortable with the role SafeSport is playing now and the evidentiary standards it is allowed to use, Cammett said, “This is what they have been chartered to do. We are quite comfortable we are following the process; all the National Governing Bodies are. This is what they should be doing.”
Cammett also made sure to acknowledge the pain of who reported the alleged abuse and the need to support them.
“We were disheartened by the abuse allegations against him (Coughlin),” Cammett said. “But we take every allegation seriously, and we need to hear from those who may have suffered abuse, and we support them. And we recognize the emotional pain they have or are experiencing.
“I know everyone in this room knows this but it bears repeating: There is just no place for abuse in sport. Just none. And when allegations of abuse are made, we need to make sure the process is fair and carried out to the fullest extent under the circumstances.”