When San Jose State University released an independent investigation into allegations that sports head coach Scott Shaw had inappropriately touched female athletes during his decade with the school, there was no doubt their findings:
“All allegations were supported by a preponderance of evidence” and “Shaw was implicated in sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.”
These actions, according to last month’s report, violated university guidelines.
But did you break the law?
Typically in such cases, experts say that is exactly what the local police would investigate. But in one intriguing and perhaps foreboding sign, the FBI is involved, interviewing victims, witnesses, and university staff. It is the same agency that investigated the infamous case of Larry Nassar in Michigan in which hundreds of young gymnasts made dramatic statements accusing the sports doctor of sexual assault under the guise of medical treatment. He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 10 minors in 2018 and is serving a 175-year prison sentence.
In order for the FBI to get involved in the San Jose State case, “it sounds like someone brought you in if I guessed,” said John Clune, a Colorado attorney specializing in Title IX sexual abuse cases has, “someone who is connected.” whether a politician or otherwise, has them locked up. ”
Shaw was never arrested or charged in connection with the case. It was originally approved by the university in 2010 after 17 female swimmers complained that it reached into their bras and underwear during treatments. But Shaw resigned abruptly last August, months after a new investigation that confirmed the allegations. For the past few weeks, he’s been found in his little blue bungalow in a sweatshirt and shorts that had recently left San Jose state – and declined to interview.
Former San Jose State University coach Scott Shaw appears in a university promotional video in 2018. (San Jose State University via YouTube)
The growing scandal in San Jose state took a new turn on Friday when the university downgraded sports director Marie Tuite to a fundraiser after complaints and litigation about her handling of the case and leadership style.
“There’s no closure for anyone,” said Shawna Bryant, who previously worked as an athletic coach alongside Shaw and recently spoke to some of the former athletes who came forward. “It was really hard for a lot of people.”
Whether the FBI is specifically focused on Shaw or how the university handled the case is also uncertain.
In a statement, an FBI spokeswoman would neither approve nor deny the agency’s involvement. Former swimmers involved in the case and a former gymnast who was 17 when she said the abuse began in 2014 told the Bay Area News Group they had been interviewed by federal agents. And Bryant says she was questioned about Zoom this March by half a dozen agents from the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. She said she had never been contacted by university police.
“They asked what happened, what did you see?” Bryant said in an interview this week. “They asked if he was still working on women athletes.”
The explosive allegations, which first surfaced in a USA Today exposé last year, centered on how the university allowed a sports coach who was accused of sexually abusing 17 women, including at least one minor, in 2009 could continue to treat women athletes over the course of another 12 years. The university is now facing at least three lawsuits from coaches or administrators who claim they were rejected or terminated for continuing to insist that Shaw posed a threat.
But just as confusing is what happened to the criminal investigation. Will Shaw bring charges? And what is the FBI really about?
The allegations against Shaw date back to 2009 when the 17 swimmers told their coach they felt uncomfortable when Shaw touched them under bras and underwear while treating shoulder or hip injuries. Shaw deleted the university’s original 2010 investigation by its human resources department, stating that his “pressure point therapy” was a “real” treatment for muscle injuries.
It was a finding that would be undone last month as the new independent review by an outside law firm established many of the 2009 complaints and added two more victims since 2017. There was no therapeutic justification for touching women in their private spheres. the new review noted.
“You should have arrested him,” said Rob Mezzetti, a San Jose attorney who has represented numerous sexual abuse survivors, including Catholic acolytes. “No doubt they should have arrested him, especially on the minor.”
The cases bring to light the tricky sexual abuse reporting requirements on college campuses and when or whether law enforcement should be involved. Cases involving minors – including freshmen who are 17 years old – must be reported to the police by mandatory reporters, which include most university employees, including coaches.
The women’s swim coach, Sage Hopkins, did just that. According to interviews and documents, Hopkins reported to University Police at least three times about 17-year-old female athletes who alleged abuse by Shaw, first in 2009, then in 2013 on a case in 2009, and again a few months ago when a new victim, a gymnast, said she had been inappropriately touched by Shaw since 2014.
However, what became of these three cases is unclear. University police referred several calls for information to the university’s media office, which did not return repeated emails.
For the remainder of the cases involving athletes aged 18 and over, Hopkins took the complaints to the campus office charged with enforcing Title IX, a federal law that protects people from gender discrimination. There is no obligation to report to the police for people over the age of 18. Instead, the university must respond to allegations of gender-based harassment or mistreatment.
Clune, the Colorado sex crimes attorney, calls the San Jose state scandal “a disaster.”
“If 17 female swimmers say he is touching them inappropriately, how many busloads of women do you need before you actually do something?” Asked Clune. “So that the mean is: ‘We won’t let him massage these over-sensitive swimmers’ – that’s how they must have rationalized it – and keep him going and insulting other athletes, that should have been predictable.”
It is unclear whether any of the adult victims will bring charges themselves. It is their prerogative to decide, says Clune. Some of them have filed legal claims against the state of San Jose and established their right to sue.
It remains to be seen where the investigation will proceed from here.
But Bryant says she hopes she can find out the results of an investigation this time around – unlike in 2010, when Shaw was back in the training room treating women athletes and she was never told why. This time, the FBI assured, things would be different.
“We were in the dark before,” said Bryant. “The FBI said we won’t be like this. Either way you will know what the result is. ”