Turns out that yesterday’s update on Charles Baechler — the judge in Washington State who lost his gavel and his clean record to a conviction stemming from sexual assault charges, yet found such a triviality no bar to a career of coaching youth in USA Swimming — didn’t have the half of it.
An emergency hearing of the board of review of ConcussionInc.net LLP ordered a “formal investigation” of whether your humble blogger had revealed “the rest of the story.”
Two months ago, as I was breaking this news, Baechler sent me a long email arguing that this singular 1999 blemish on his portfolio of accomplishment and service dated from “a very painful period of my life, a period that has had far reaching effects on me personally and professionally, but it is not something that I hide from, nor that I’ve hidden from the teams that have employed me or from the organization that has certified me.”
Baechler didn’t mention that, in addition to the sex offense, his record showed two drunk-driving strikes when he was introduced to the families of the Woodmoor Waves, of Monument, Colorado, as the new head coach in 2011.
Nor did he disclose another incident in which he was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct, and obstructing a police officer. That one led to his resignation as the coach of the Mitchell Aquatic Club in South Dakota.
Months after the Colorado interlude, on October 16, 2011, Baechler had yet another DUI, according to the Daily Republic in Mitchell: “The right side of the vehicle was in the ditch. Baechler performed poorly on field sobriety tests, and a blow test showed a 0.162 blood alcohol level. The legal driving limit in South Dakota is 0.08. A third DUI within a 10-year period is a felony charge with a maximum sentence of two years in prison, a $2,000 fine or both.”
Baechler seems to have persuaded the sentencing judge that this was his second, rather than third, DUI strike. In the end, he got a 180-day jail sentence with 90 days suspended, and one year on probation and without driving privileges. The newspaper account said he was allowed “to serve his jail time in 30-day periods in December, March and August to accommodate his work schedule as head coach of USA Swimming in Watertown.”
Baechler’s hire and dismissal as the head coach of the Woodmoor Waves played out barely more than a 5,000-meter freestyle away from USA Swimming headquarters in Colorado Springs. The Waves dumped Baechler after information surfaced about his sex offense in Washington, which somehow hadn’t turned up in the pre-hire background check.
In response to an anonymous complaint submitted last month, shortly after our first Baechler story, USA Swimming claims to have opened a “formal investigation” of him. But in dismissing another anonymous complaint against the Woodmoor club and its president at the time, Brian Donohue, the organization’s safe sport director, Susan Woessner, lets them off the hook for not reporting Baechler’s sex-crime background even after shipping him back to South Dakota. (Ancillary question: What gives paper-pusher Woessner the authority to dismiss a complaint? Aren’t complaint dispositions the purview of the national review board?)
Woessner says the Woodmoor hire of Baechler was “provisional,” and since he didn’t become the permanent head coach there after all … well, no harm, no foul. The problem with her rationalization is that whether or not Woodmoor kept him aboard is irrelevant to the reporting requirements of the USA Swimming code. The very point of reporting is that it also helps prevent a sex offender from becoming someone else’s coach with supervision of youngsters.
Woessner also claims that Baechler’s conviction didn’t show up on his background check because it was subsequently expunged. Experts I have consulted say that statement does not accurately depict the comprehensiveness of background check data.
Baechler’s hire at Woodmoor, now labeled (probably retroactively) as “provisional,” came undone after a board member there, Terri-Ann Snediker, got wind of the Washington State sex conviction and informed club president Donohue. Yesterday I left phone messages for both Snediker and Donohue. Neither has responded.
Rapist judges coaching kid swimmers? Background checks with no backbone, covering no ground? The criminal negligence of our Olympic swimming program is not fixable from within. This is a task for the United States Congress, author of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.