SafeSport ending sexual misconduct investigation into deceased skater John Coughlin
The U.S. Center for SafeSport will not complete an investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct made against deceased former national champion figure skater John Coughlin.
The Center for SafeSport -- an independent body tasked with adjudicating claims of sexual misconduct within the national governing bodies of U.S. Olympic sports -- suspended Coughlin in January while it looked into claims made against him. Coughlin died by suicide one day after the suspension in his father's home in Kansas City, Missouri. He was 33.
Leaders from U.S. Figure Skating and the sport's professional coaches association publicly asked the Center to continue its ongoing investigation into Coughlin following his death. Dan Hill, a spokesman for SafeSport, said at the time that the Center was unsure if it could continue the investigation.
As a matter of policy, the Center for SafeSport does not comment on individual cases, but a statement from the organization released Tuesday afternoon reaffirmed its stance that it can only investigate cases where an individual presents an ongoing threat to others in the sport.
"Since the Center's response and resolution process works to protect the sport community and other covered persons from the risks associated with sexual misconduct and abuse, it cannot advance an investigation when no potential threat exists," the statement said.
The statement did say that the Center could open a new investigation into other individuals who may have enabled sexual misconduct or acted improperly if investigators are presented with evidence that suggests such a thing occurred.
Hill explained that the Center's mission is to investigate individuals who put athletes at risk due to inappropriate sexual behavior, which is different than the way the court system addresses specific crimes. When SafeSport finds someone has acted inappropriately, it makes those findings public by announcing sanctions against the individual. Since Coughlin is no longer alive, Hill said, the organization would have no way of publicly sharing the results of an investigation.
"This has been a very tough and deliberative process," Hill said of the decision on how to proceed in the case.
U.S. Figure Skating president Anne Cammett said in January that reaching a conclusion was important for all parties involved. Her organization said in a statement released Tuesday night it was "disappointed" with decision not to move forward with the investigation.
"The allegations and Coughlin's death have left his family, those who reported the allegations, many in the figure skating community and survivors of abuse searching for answers," the statement said.
USFS executive director David Raith previously wrote to the Center for SafeSport to ask that it hire a third-party investigator to complete the investigation. He said it was "imperative" that the investigation continue to provide some clarity and closure to the situation, even though Coughlin would no longer be able to respond to the claims against him.
It's not clear if Coughlin spoke to SafeSport investigators prior to his death. USA Today reported in early January that three people had accused Coughlin of sexual misconduct and that two of the accusers were minors at the time of the alleged incidents. Coughlin called the accusations against him "unfounded" in the USA Today report.
Raith was among several people involved in the sport who called on the Center to be more transparent about its process of investigation claims of misconduct. Christine Binder-Fowler, president of the Professional Skaters Association, also encouraged SafeSport to continue its investigation and shed more light on how and when it shares information about individuals who have been accused of wrongdoing.
"I want there to be a fair and transparent process, and just a little more communication," Binder-Fowler said in January. "I want to be able to defend SafeSport. ... We would just like to know what's going on."