Colorado Springs-based USA Swimming is not culpable for a California coach’s months of sexual abuse of a swimmer beginning when she was12 years old, a California jury decided Friday.
USA Swimming affiliates Stockton Swim Club and Pacific Swimming earlier settled the case out of court and agreed to pay $1.12 million, according to the lawyers that represented the girl.
The girl testified in a deposition, a video of which was played for the jury, that she struggles with ongoing post traumatic stress disorder due to the ongoing sexual abuse she suffered from her former coach, Shunichi Fujishima.
“USA Swimming is grateful to the jury for their time and consideration of this extremely important matter,” said USA Swimming spokesperson Isabelle McLemore in a prepared statement. “While the decision correctly identifies who was responsible for this atrocious act, it does not right the wrong, nor should anyone forget that a child was harmed and that everyone needs to do more to continue to ensure a safer environment for our athletes.”
Fujishima, 23, is serving 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he sexually terrorized the girl for seven months last year and targeted another 13-year-old girl with illegal sexual communications.
The jury was polled, with nine members stating they supported the verdict and three saying they opposed it.
“We chose to take on a very challenging case against USA Swimming to hold it accountable for the negligent taking of our client’s innocence and quality of life,” said the girl’s lawyer, San Jose-based B. Robert Allard, in a prepared statement. “We had no choice but to put this case before a jury since USA Swimming took no accountability and offered nuisance monies, which we rejected before trial. That they offered a mere $20 a day for the harm caused to our client is an insult and shows what they think of sexual abuse victims.”
The girl’s parents were negligent and careless themselves, USA Swimming’s lawyers contended during the trial, which stretched for weeks. The governing body also claimed sexual safety training was made available to the Stockton Swim Club before the incident, absolving USA Swimming of responsibility if that training wasn’t done.
Allard had argued that USA Swimming failed to act despite earlier indications of sexual misconduct at the Stockton Swim Club, where Fujishima was a coach and where the girl was a competitor.
USA Swimming did not aggressively investigate the Stockton Swim Club despite receiving a sexual misconduct complaint from another parent in 2017 about another coach with the club — Marco Villanueva — according to evidence in the case.
That complaint, which was sent to USA Swimming, included a copy of Snapchat messages Villanueva, then 19, wrote in 2014 and 2015 to a girl, then 13. In one message, he wrote, “Now I basically have your” body, which he referred to in an explicit and vulgar manner. In another message, Villanueva wrote to the girl that he had a friend “who wants to get laid also.”
Despite reviewing the Snapchat messages and finding that Villanueva transported the girl to social engagements without the permission of the girl’s mother, USA Swimming issued only a written warning that allowed Villanueva to remain a USA Swimming member. Villanueva was fired from the club, and lawyers for USA Swimming said he has not continued to coach.
Tim Hinchey, who became president and CEO of USA Swimming in 2017, was copied on the written warning that went to Villanueva. He testified during a deposition, a video of which was played for the jury, that he did not recall receiving a copy of the warning and had just started the job as CEO and was focused on many other duties at the time.
Hinchey testified during the deposition that he does not know how to identify the red flag warning signs of a sexual abuser or “grooming” behaviors and relied on USA Swimming safety personnel to ensure clubs were keeping swimmers safe.
“An independent body was presented USA Swimming’s athlete protection program, along with expert analysis, and concluded that USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program and initiatives met or exceeded the standard of care for a youth serving organization,” McLemore said.
The girl’s lawyers had contended during the trial that USA Swimming should have investigated the Stockton Swim Club more aggressively after reviewing the Snapchat messages Villanueva had sent.
“While we are disappointed in the result delivered by a Stockton, California, jury, we can honestly say that we fought tooth and nail for full justice for a very deserving client for the hell that she has been and will go through as a result of being subjected to unspeakable molestations,” Allard said.