Lawsuit: Abuse of swimmers widespread

SAN JOSE — Two months after former swim instructor Andrew King was sentenced to 40 years in prison for sexually abusing girls he coached in the Bay Area, the attorney for one of his victims is claiming King was part of a culture in youth swimming throughout the nation that ignores the swimmers' cries for help.

San Jose attorney B. Robert Allard outlines the alleged widespread abuse within USA Swimming in an amended lawsuit filed late Thursday in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

King coached at Modesto's SOS Club from 1998 until San Jose Aquatics hired him in 2000.

USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said Friday that he takes "great exception" to Allard's claim.

"This is a topic that USA Swimming takes very, very seriously," Wielgus said.

Officials immediately investigate any claims of misconduct, Wielgus said, and if there is validity to a claim, they work to expel the coach. He noted that although USA Swimming offers guidance, screening and support to local clubs, the clubs ultimately make hiring decisions.

Allard, who represents a 15-year-old San Jose girl who was abused by King, and 1972 Olympic gold medal swimmer Deena Deardurff Schmidt discussed their allegations against coaches and officials of the national body for swimming in the United States at a news conference Friday.

Since 1993, at least 32 coaches at swim clubs around the country abused their swimmers, the complaint states, adding that the list was not "all inclusive."

The San Jose Mercury News documented abuse by King dating back to the 1980s. Each time, adults knew or were told about the abuse but did not take action.

The allegations in the amended complaint echo the history of King, who was able to move from swim club to swim club with rumors and allegations of improper behavior following in his wake. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against King, San Jose Aquatics, Pacific Swimming (the West Coast branch of USA Swimming) and USA Swimming.

According to the complaint, Schmidt was repeatedly molested by a former swimming coach, who is not named but is described as a "legendary USA Swimming coach." When she tried to complain about the abuse in the 1980s, Schmidt said she was told she'd have to have another coach file the complaint for her, to "vouch" for her, which she was unable to do, the lawsuit says.

Years later, Schmidt said she was contacted by a top official at USA Swimming about her former swim coach being considered for the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Schmidt then reiterated her allegations of sexual abuse against him, according to the lawsuit. Even so, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.