Police Account of Processing of Sex Abuse Allegations at Michael Phelps’ Baltimore Swim Club Is As Skimpy As a Speedo Bikini

Published October 23rd, 2012, Uncategorized

Baltimore County police aren’t saying much about their involvement in the North Baltimore Aquatic Club sex abuse scandal. And what they are saying has serious holes. If law enforcement doesn’t want the public to conclude that cops have been playing footsies with the powerful, at the expense of full exploration of allegations of child molestation, plus the compromising of community safety, some key questions need answers.

To review, in 2010 a former NBAC swimmer, now an adult woman, came forward with allegations that she had been molested by a coach there. No one is saying the name of the coach, but I assure readers that he is Murray Stephens, who in turn was abruptly separated from the club last fall.

USA Swimming said it sent Baltimore County police a letter in ’10 with the “complaint and information.” It would be an understatement to say USA Swimming’s representations cannot be taken at face value. These are the people who fielded complaints of the decades-long trail of rapes by coach Andy King at least as early as 2002, yet favorably processed his 2008 “background check”; then, after a “Jane Doe” victim came forward and helped put King in prison for life, the organization’s executive director, Chuck Wielgus, lied that he’d had no idea King was unfit for supervising kids.

Our Olympic Committee-sanctioned national sport governing body’s chief also testified, in the case of Peeping Tom coach Brian Hindson, that clandestine locker room video of nude swimmers had not been “on the radar screen” — more than a decade after another pervert club coach with identical fetishes and methods, John Trites, became the subject of an FBI manhunt and a segment on the television program America’s Most Wanted. And after ESPN exposed the generation-long sexual predation of his athletes by Mitch Ivey — leading to Ivey’s dismissal by the University of Florida — a 20-year USA Swimming board member deadpanned in a deposition, “If Mr. Ivey was part of a television broadcast, I’m not aware of it.”

At first, Baltimore County police said they could not locate a record of how it handled the NBAC situation because inquiring reporters — including from the Baltimore Sun and this blog — were unable to provide specific dates or other database parameters.

When I presented the police with information that the alleged victim had been contacted by a detective in October 2011, Corporal Cathleen Batton, the department spokesperson, came up with a verification of the USA Swimming letter the year before. But the letter was too unspecific and flawed for concerted police follow-up, Batton maintained — without releasing the document itself, which may have been thrown away “due to the length of time that has passed.”

Dear readers, bear in mind that the length of time is all of two years, and in the intervening period, the police acknowledge a referral of the matter (also so far undocumented) to the Crimes Against Children Unit.

The Murray Stephens scenario is not a charge of drunk and disorderly conduct, or mishandling of funds by a volunteer. It is a grave allegation that one of the most celebrated coaches in swimming history, founder of the age-group team where Michael Phelps became a superstar, is at the center of yet another cell of molestation of girl athletes, plus the cover-up of same, under the aegis of USA Swimming. Without delay, Baltimore County police must address at least four questions:

* Who are the officers with first-hand knowledge supporting the department’s assertion of the existence of the USA Swimming letter, and the description of its purported contents? And if that missing document is so insignificant, then how do those officers explain the subsequent referral of the matter to child crime detectives?

* Even if the USA Swimming letter itself cannot be produced, where is the record of that October 2011 referral?

* Who is the detective who contacted the alleged victim — according to my information, in the range October 5 to October 11, 2011? And on what basis did that contact lead to the conclusion that “no police report” needed to be generated?

* Finally, what are the department’s policies on retention and disposal of documents? The denizens of White Hall, Cockeysville, and Randallstown can’t be too thrilled to learn that the institutional memory of their men and women in blue seems to expire in a mere 12 or 24 months.

Irv Muchnick