USA Swimming sued over sex assault

INDIANAPOLIS -- The family of an Indiana teenager filed a civil lawsuit against USA Swimming and others Thursday, saying officials didn't do enough to protect the girl from the sexual assaults by her coach.

The suit, filed in Marion County Superior Court, levels accusations against the umbrella group for U.S. amateur swimming, Indiana Swimming, the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township and others. All are listed as defendants along with Christopher Wheat, the former coach.

Wheat was a coach for the Lawrence Swim team, a club sanctioned by USA Swimming. He was arrested in October 2009 and was jailed after pleading guilty last year to two counts of felony sexual misconduct with a minor and one count of felony child solicitation.

Attorney Jonathan Little, who is representing the family, says swimming officials didn't take action after complaints of inappropriate behavior by Wheat.

USA Swimming, in a statement released Thursday night, said it has not received a lawsuit but denied the claims made by Little.

"To the extent that the attorney has claimed that USA Swimming has a culture of protecting pedophiles, that is categorically untrue," the statement said. "There is nothing more important to USA Swimming than the safety and well-being of its 300,000 members. For that reason, the organization has developed one of the most comprehensive athlete protection programs among Olympic Sports."

According to the lawsuit, the girl's mother called Tony Young, the sports development director for Indiana Swimming, in 2008 to complain of abusive training methods and sexually inappropriate behavior by Wheat with a separate female swimmer. Young allegedly ignored the complaints instead of reporting the incident as required by Indiana law.

"In addition, the attorney's allegation that USA Swimming had been warned of sexual abuse by Chris Wheat is also untrue," the statement said. "The first instance that USA Swimming learned about abuse by Chris Wheat was when we were notified of his arrest in October 2009."

The suit also accused Amanda Juntunen Cox, a swim coach at McCutcheon High School in West Lafayette, Ind., of the same thing. The suit alleges that Wheat and Cox had a text message conversation on Oct. 4, 2009, in which Wheat revealed he had a relationship with the alleged victim.

"But good catch . now put her back in the lake and chalk it up as an experience, smile about it occasionally and upgrade to college," Cox allegedly texted Wheat, according to the suit.

Cox did not return messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday.

A number of similar lawsuits have been filed around the country alleging USA Swimming covered up wrongdoing and allowed a culture of abuse to exist in its coaching ranks.

USA Swimming said it investigates misconduct complaints and revokes membership if behavior was inappropriate. It has also banned at least 46 coaches and officials for life, mostly for sexual misconduct.