Meyer probe costs $500K but still about what Ohio State wants
By MITCH STACY
AP Sports Writer
Wednesday, August 15
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Urban Meyer investigation is costing Ohio State $500,000, but whether the superstar football coach keeps his job still comes down to whether the university wants to stick with him based on how he’s already been tainted by the scandal.
Meyer is on paid leave while Ohio State pays an outside firm to investigate and a six-member university committee considers whether he responded properly to accusations of domestic abuse made against one of his coaches, Zach Smith, who has been fired.
But Meyer has already given his bosses plenty to consider — he says he knew of domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith before he brought Smith to coach wide receivers at Ohio State, and that he reported new accusations properly when they surfaced in 2015.
University officials expect to make a decision within about a week in what could come down to a public relations balancing act involving the school’s reputation, $38 million in future salary under Meyer’s contract and other jobs at stake.
WHY FIRE MEYER?
Meyer knew about a 2009 domestic incident in Gainesville, Florida, when Smith was a graduate assistant coach for Meyer’s Florida team. A police report says that during an argument Zach Smith picked up a pregnant Courtney and threw her against a wall. Zach Smith was never charged.
Knowing that, Meyer allowed Smith to stay on staff at Florida and then brought Smith in at Ohio State. Meyer also knew about the 2015 abuse allegations , but Smith — the grandson of former Ohio State coach and Meyer mentor Earle Bruce — kept his job until Courtney Smith filed for a restraining order on July 20.
“At the end of the day, (Meyer is) the highest-paid state employee in Ohio, and you have a lot more responsibility than coaching,” said B. David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University in Athens. “And clearly there was enough smoke with Zach Smith that they should have gotten rid of him a long time ago.”
Ohio State didn’t put Meyer on leave until Courtney Smith talked to a reporter, saying she was abused for years by her ex-husband. Zach Smith has denied her abuse allegations and has never been prosecuted for abuse.
The Meyer investigation plays out at a time when the school itself — and college athletics at large — is under scrutiny around the handling of misconduct allegations.
Ohio State has a growing list of more than 100 former students and athletes who say they were groped and otherwise mistreated by Dr. Richard Strauss, a deceased athletic department doctor who worked at the university for nearly 20 years. There are questions about whether Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan knew about the abuse when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State during the same time.
At least three federal lawsuits have been filed against Ohio State by men who say they were abused by Strauss.
Don’t expect fans and critics to separate the scandals when a decision is made on Meyer.
WHY KEEP MEYER?
Meyer said he followed “proper protocol and procedures” after finding out about the 2015 abuse allegations.
“Please know that the truth is the ultimate power, and I am confident I took appropriate action,” Meyer said in a tweeted statement.
Meyer didn’t detail those actions but the crafted statement was clearly a public defense of his job.
Meyer signed a contract extension in the spring with new language that requires him to promptly report any “known violations” of Ohio State’s sexual misconduct policy to the school’s Title IX officials. The policy includes sexual harassment, intimate violence and stalking “that involves any student, faculty or staff.” The clause doesn’t specify how Meyer should treat older accusations.
Meyer may have limited responsibility for reporting because of the scope of behavior covered by the misconduct policy and Title IX, according to Micaela Deming, staff attorney with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
Both the policy and Title IX focus on incidents on-campus or at university-related events, she said. So in the case of Zach Smith’s 2015 arrest, “this off-campus, non-student-involved domestic violence incident seems to be largely excluded from both the sexual harassment policy and Title IX,” Deming said.
If Meyer did everything he was supposed to do, Ohio State then faces the question of whether to fire him without cause, leaving the university on the hook for $38 million to pay off the balance of his contract.
Dissolving the deal would certainly invite a challenge from Meyer, adding legal costs and leading to new rounds of public scrutiny.
There’s also winning to consider.
Meyer is 73-8 with a national title in six seasons with the Buckeyes. Winning generates money and prestige, while his dismissal would certainly cause turmoil for the football program.
Nobody at Ohio State wants a repeat of 2011, when the Buckeyes had a losing season after coach Jim Tressel was fired for lying to the NCAA about player violations.
Ohio State could suspend Meyer rather than fire him, if university leaders want to retain him while still delivering some punishment for keeping a coach around for so long despite accusations of domestic abuse.
The investigation also has implications for other athletic officials.
Athletic director Gene Smith and Meyer’s wife Shelley Meyer, an instructor in Ohio State’s nursing school, also knew of the 2015 incident, Zach Smith and Courtney Smith has said.
A key detail for investigators will be whether the Title IX office or athletic director responded properly — if they were indeed informed. Citing the investigation, the university would not make those officials available for comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
WHAT ABOUT THE SMITHS?
Zach Smith lost his $340,000 job, but still faces a court case where more details could emerge about his situation with Courtney Smith, including their friendships with the Meyers.
Zach Smith said he was never aggressive with his ex-wife and that any injuries she suffered were the result of him defending himself against her aggression.
The Smiths are due in court next month for a hearing on the restraining order, which Courtney sought after Zach drove to her apartment to drop off their son after he had been told to stay away. He was charged with criminal trespass as a result.
Courtney Smith has spoken with Ohio State investigators, her lawyer said.
Associated Press reporters Kantele Franko and Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report. More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy
Ohio State wants claims nixed in diving coach sex abuse suit
By KANTELE FRANKO
Wednesday, August 15
COLUMBUS — The Ohio State University Diving Club is asking a federal court to dismiss the claims against it in a lawsuit over allegations that a former coach sexually abused young divers years ago.
Lawyers for the club argued in a Tuesday court filing that as part of the public university, it can’t be sued without its consent under the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, which generally protects the government from lawsuits.
Indianapolis-based USA Diving and the ex-coach, 32-year-old Will Bohonyi, also are defendants in the lawsuit. USA Diving, which put Bohonyi on its list of banned coaches in 2015, has declined to comment. Bohonyi hasn’t responded to attempts to reach him, and the court record lists no attorney for him.
The plaintiffs are three female divers who say that Bohonyi sexually abused and exploited them and that USA Diving didn’t take enough action to stop him from coaching or interacting with other young divers after banning him.
The lawsuit is filed as a class action, seeking to represent USA Diving athletes and the members who traveled or trained with Bohonyi since 2008. It says the women brought the lawsuit to “declare that enough is enough, that no other female athletes should have to endure the ‘disgusting and unnecessary’ exploitation, abuse, and forced labor they have experienced” from people within USA Diving who were gatekeepers to their competitive diving dreams.
Two of the women allege Bohonyi coerced them into sexual acts between 2008 and 2011 while coaching divers at Indiana University, which isn’t named in the lawsuit. One of the women alleges Bohonyi “forced her to trade sex for diving coaching” — on a daily basis at one point — and demanded that she text him sexually explicit photos. The lawsuit doesn’t say whether the divers reported him.
But when Ohio State hired him in September 2012 as a part-time assistant diving coach, he passed a background check and indicated on his application that he’d never been fired or asked to resign by previous employers, which included a Bloomington high school and a summer camp for hundreds of divers in Indiana.
His performance review in June 2013 described him as a hard worker who met expectations and had “good rapport with the divers and their parents.” His listed duties included creating a safe atmosphere for practices and competitions. Under “Opportunities for Improvement,” the assistant coach reviewing him wrote: “Continue to weigh what is right, learn from those around you, be on time and prove dependability.”
His role was increased to full-time in July 2014. The following month, the university was notified of allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a diver he was coaching, then-17-year-old Estee Pryor. The AP doesn’t typically name victims of sexual assault, but Pryor, who is the other named plaintiff in the lawsuit, has spoken publicly and given permission for her name to be used.
The lawsuit alleges the coach’s previous pattern of misconduct continued with Pryor because officials responsible for his oversight hadn’t taken action to stop him. Pryor says she was manipulated by Bohonyi, and she accuses Ohio State of failing to act after receiving photos and videos of sexual encounters between her and the coach.
Ohio State has said that when it learned of the allegations about Pryor, it put Bohonyi on paid leave, notified police, investigated the matter and fired him that month for violating the school’s sexual harassment policy. The campus police investigation was closed at her request but was reopened this January, also at the former diver’s request, and that investigation is pending.
As for any photos, a university spokesman has said “law enforcement has always been in possession of any images that may have existed.”
Follow Franko on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kantele10
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Ohio State shares updates related to Dr. Richard Strauss
Aug. 16, 2018
Office for Civil Rights inquiry announced
COLUMBUS – The Ohio State University shared an update today related to Dr. Richard Strauss, a physician employed by the university from the mid-1970s to 1990s. Strauss died in 2005.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which oversees enforcement of Title IX, has opened an investigation based on the allegations against Strauss made by former Ohio State students. The directed investigation will be conducted by the OCR Cleveland regional office and will examine whether the university is responding promptly and equitably to complaints and reports by former students, including allegations that employees knew or should have known about the sexual misconduct and allowed the abuse to continue.
“We welcome the involvement and careful oversight of OCR and look forward to providing any information we can,” said Gates Garrity-Rokous, vice president and chief compliance officer for Ohio State.
“We responded promptly and appropriately to the allegations received in April about Dr. Strauss. We are confident in the independence and thoroughness of the investigation we launched then as well as our ongoing commitment to transparency.”
Perkins Coie independent investigation continues to move forward
The independent investigation announced by Ohio State in April continues to move forward. Perkins Coie LLP, an international law firm with expertise in these matters, is conducting the investigation. Updates and resources are on the university’s website.
Additional updates are expected at the university’s Board of Trustees meeting later this month.
The university continues to encourage anyone with information about Strauss’ conduct to contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The identity of those who contact Perkins Coie will be treated with the utmost confidence and sensitivity permitted by law, and individuals may report anonymously if they wish.
Media and third parties independently contacting students
Perkins Coie uses the most trauma-informed approach to an investigation of this type. Due to the concern of re-traumatizing individuals who were affected and do not wish to revisit the experience, investigators are not contacting any former students who may have been examined by Strauss. Instead, Perkins Coie is working with Ohio State to release regular updates to the public in order to empower others to determine whether they want to come forward.
The investigators have learned that some former students have been contacted by the media or other third parties regarding any interaction they may have had with Strauss. The investigators have not been involved with any efforts by the media or other third parties to solicit individual students who wish to maintain their privacy, as such contact contravenes the trauma-informed approach the investigative team utilizes.
Ohio State will continue to provide updates on the independent investigation and, upon completion, will report the outcome.
The Columbus law firm of Carpenter Lipps & Leland LLP has been retained by Ohio State to handle litigation concerning three lawsuits filed recently against the university by former students. Ohio State’s handling of the litigation is entirely separate from the ongoing independent investigation that is being conducted by Perkins Coie.