San Jose State sex abuse scandal involving sport trainer goes to trial

The sex abuse scandal at San Jose State brought down a university president and athletic director, spurred a federal investigation that issued a scathing report and cost the university millions in legal settlements.

But what at least two dozen former female athletes are still waiting for — after years of being ignored or not believed — is criminal justice. Over the next three weeks, a tightly-knit group of survivors — many now in their 30s — is expected to gather in a federal courtroom in San Jose for the trial of Scott Shaw, the former head athletic trainer accused of sexually assaulting them during treatments as far back as 2009. Jury selection begins Monday. Shaw kept his job for another 11 years, allegedly abusing more female athletes, as university officials dismissed — and then hushed up — the allegations and threatened a Spartan swim coach who kept up a decade-long crusade to expose the abuse.

According to court records filed in preparation for the trial, the accusations against Shaw are more egregious than first reported and the victims go far beyond the women’s swim team, spanning the women’s water polo, soccer, volleyball and softball teams.

“I can’t believe that it’s finally here after so many years of waiting and fighting for this moment to come,” said Kirsten Trammell, one of the first members of the swim team to come forward in 2009. “Everything that’s happened up until this point has really been involving the university’s actions and repercussions. This criminal trial is so important for taking action against Scott himself.”

Former San Jose State University trainer Scott Shaw appears in a 2018 promotional video from the university. (San Jose State University via YouTube) 

The case echoes the sensational prosecution of Larry Nassar, the Michigan State sports medicine doctor now serving a life sentence after he was accused of sexually assaulting more than 150 young gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment. The Shaw case spurred a raft of changes throughout the Cal State system and especially at San Jose State, which was vilified by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2021 for its handling of the matter from the start. The Justice Department imposed a total $1.6 million fine to be paid to victims, ordered that the school revamp its Title IX office and required the university to reach out to every female athlete ever treated by Shaw.

To Rachael Denhollander, the whistleblower in the Nassar case whose story was the subject of a Netflix documentary, the cases are all too familiar.

“What you see happening in the Scott Shaw case and the Nassar case are the same problems that you see repeated at a cultural level over and over and over again, where women say, ‘This isn’t right. Something is happening that isn’t OK.’ And we go, ‘Oh, no, the problem is you. You’re mistaken. You’re hypersensitive,’” said Denhollander, now a lawyer and victims’ advocate. “We don’t trust women’s own wisdom and discernment and intelligence.”

After jury selection early in the week, as many as eight victims may testify, as well as a who’s who of San Jose State’s athletic department, past and present, including three former athletic directors. One of them is Marie Tuite, who has been sued over accusations she led a campaign of cover-up and retaliation, but who recently landed a new job at Southern Utah University. Sage Hopkins, the whistle-blowing swim coach who ultimately took his concerns outside the school, will also take the stand in the trial that is expected to last about three weeks.

Shaw’s defense witness list includes 10 former female athletes who would testify to his “general good character,” his defense lawyers said in court documents.

Shaw, 56, voluntarily resigned at the height of the scandal in 2020 and is receiving a $2,467 monthly state pension. He has pleaded not guilty to six federal civil rights charges for “willfully depriving four female student-athletes of their Constitutional fundamental right to bodily integrity when he sexually assaulted them.”

The misdemeanors could land him in prison for six years. Federal prosecutors declined to explain why they didn’t charge Shaw with more serious sexual assault crimes.

But Steve Clark, a San Jose defense lawyer who has followed the case, said that the inappropriate touching alleged in court papers, if charged in state courts, might amount to no more than misdemeanor sexual battery as well.

Former San Jose State University swimmer Kirsten Trammell in Cardiff, California, Friday, July 2, 2021. Trammell is one of the first members of the swim team to come forward to accuse former San Jose State University athletic trainer Scott Shaw of sexually abusing female athletes. (Photo by Howard Lipin)
Former San Jose State University swimmer Kirsten Trammell in Cardiff, California, Friday, July 2, 2021. Trammell is one of the first members of the swim team to come forward to accuse former San Jose State University athletic trainer Scott Shaw of sexually abusing female athletes. (Photo by Howard Lipin) 

“You’ll get a lot of countervailing expert testimony on whether this was, in fact, a legitimate medical process” of sports therapy, Clark said. However, without supervision and other safeguards in place, “clearly the protocols that were followed were a recipe for disaster.”

Shaw, who moved to Washington after he retired, has declined media interviews. His defense lawyer declined an interview.  Although the accusations span 14 years, the charges involve just four women who came forward since 2017, within the 5-year statute of limitations. Those women, like many before them, accuse Shaw of touching them inappropriately on their breasts and buttocks during physical therapy sessions. Unlike the Nassar case, Shaw has not been accused of sexual penetration. U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said she will allow at least four and perhaps eight more women to testify about the abuse they say they suffered as early as 2006 when Shaw arrived on campus.

Some of those allegations are more sexually explicit than the recent cases. In court papers, prosecutors said that Shaw “rubbed his penis against a student’s genital area during a hamstring stretch,” and touched the vaginal areas of other athletes, “particularly when treating knee and shoulder injuries.”

The allegations first came to light in December 2009, when a swimmer told coach Hopkins that she didn’t want to seek treatment for a shoulder injury from Shaw because “I don’t feel like getting felt up.” It was an experience, she said, shared by many members of the swim team. Hopkins immediately informed his superiors, and an internal investigation by the human resources office began. Seventeen swimmers came forward with similar complaints. The case was quickly closed, however, when the campus investigator declared that Shaw’s “trigger point therapy” — where he massaged one area to treat another — was medically justified. The investigator relied in large part on two young athletic trainers, both subordinate to Shaw, who said later that their statements were misconstrued.

School officials then considered the matter “case closed,” but nonetheless informally told Shaw not to treat female athletes. With no supervision — and despite repeated alarms by coach Hopkins — he did anyway.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 11: San Jose State University swimming and diving head coach Sage Hopkins speaks during a rally organized by Students Against Sexual Assault at the site where former athletic coach Scott Shaw sexually assaulted nearly two dozen students at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. They're calling for more Title IX coordinators, administrators involved in the Shaw case to be removed from campus and a regular quarterly report of improvements on protecting students from sexual harassment and abuse. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose State University swimming and diving head coach Sage Hopkins speaks during a rally organized by Students Against Sexual Assault at the site where former athletic coach Scott Shaw sexually assaulted nearly two dozen students at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

After the Nassar case in Michigan came to a head in 2018 — and Nassar defended his actions as routine medical treatment — Hopkins in San Jose compiled a 300-page dossier of emails and victim testimonials about Shaw and sent it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Then-university President Mary Papazian, who joined the school years after the first accusations, ordered a new investigation. But even that was panned by the Justice Department as inadequate.

Papazian has since been replaced by Cynthia Teniente-Matson, who acknowledged in a summer statement to the campus community that school officials are bracing for the trial.

Former Athletic Director Marie Tuite, left, and Former SJSU President Mary Papazian. (/Bay Area News Group)
Former Athletic Director Marie Tuite, left, and Former SJSU President Mary Papazian. (Bay Area News Group) 

“We anticipate testimony that will likely be painful and difficult to digest,” Teniente-Matson wrote. “We hope that the legal process and eventual outcome will bring some measure of healing to those who were harmed.”

Former gymnast Amy LeClair received a settlement last year with the university over her experience with Shaw in 2016, seven years after the original swimmers first complained. LeClair, who also made separate allegations of bullying against the former gymnastics coach, feels conflicted about what lies ahead in the courtroom. She, like many of the victims who have careers and young children, doesn’t intend to testify or travel to the Bay Area for the trial.

“Part of the reason I’ve turned away from everything that happened with the sexual assault is because I don’t want to address that that happened to me,” she said. “It’s so much easier to say I want justice for the other victims than to say I want justice for myself because I’m exhausted of wanting justice. And I don’t want to be disappointed again.”


WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Former SJSU head athletic trainer Scott Shaw: Moved to Washington state after he left the university. Last year, he called into a court hearing on Zoom in the middle of an RV trip with his significant other to Boston to attend college hockey’s championship known as the Frozen Four.

Former Athletic Director Marie Tuite: After leaving SJSU under a cloud in 2021, she was hired as deputy athletic director in February at Southern Utah University, a public school with about 14,000 students in Cedar City, Utah. She is collecting a $6,939 monthly pension from the California Public Employees Retirement System.

Former SJSU President Mary Papazian: She officially retired from CSU in December and, according to LinkedIn, took a job in May as Interim CEO of Business-Higher Education Forum, a nonprofit that connects universities with the talent needs of businesses.

Swim coach Sage Hopkins: Now coaching at SJSU for his 19th year, Hopkins received a letter of apology from the university for its treatment of him during his crusade to oust Shaw. He is listed as a prosecution witness and is considered a hero by many of his former swimmers.

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