Lopez in­ves­ti­ga­tion en­ters 14th month

USA TODAY US Edition - - USA TODAY SPORTS - Nancy Ar­mour and Rachel Axon

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions against two-time Olympic taek­wondo cham­pion Steven Lopez con­tin­ues into its 14th month, nearly 12 months longer than the U.S. Cen­ter for SafeS­port’s av­er­age for re­solv­ing cases.

The cen­ter re­ceived cases against Steven Lopez and his older brother and coach, Jean, from Don­ald Alper­stein, an at­tor­ney USA Taek­wondo hired in 2015 to look into mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions, when it opened in March 2017.

While USA Taek­wondo never held a hear­ing on the al­le­ga­tions against ei­ther Lopez, as would have been re­quired by its bylaws at the time, Alper­stein was con­cerned enough by what he’d found to alert the FBI.

On April 3, more than a year af­ter re­ceiv­ing the cases against the broth­ers, SafeS­port de­clared Jean Lopez per­ma­nently in­el­i­gi­ble af­ter find­ing that he had com­mit­ted vi­o­la­tions in­clud­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct and sex­ual mis­con­duct in­volv­ing a mi­nor.

Jean Lopez is ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion. In sep­a­rate in­ter­views with USA TO­DAY in June, both Lopez broth­ers de­nied all al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault and sex­ual mis­con­duct.

Ac­cord­ing to SafeS­port, its in­ves­ti­ga­tions were last­ing an av­er­age of 63 days as of this month.

USA TO­DAY re­ported in June that two women had ac­cused Steven Lopez of rape or sex­ual as­sault. Mandy Meloon spoke on the record, while a sec­ond woman re­quested anonymity. USA TO­DAY does not iden­tify alleged vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault who have not gone pub­lic.

The length of time it has taken to re­solve the case is “dis­ap­point­ing and in my eyes un­nec­es­sary,” said the woman, who was a for­mer mem­ber of the ju­nior na­tional team. It “seems to just show ne­glect and lack of ac­tion on their part, in my opin­ion. They have full tes­ti­monies from mul­ti­ple women, and noth­ing has been done.

“I do not com­mu­ni­cate with SafeS­port any­more be­cause I don’t trust them and I think they’re quite neg­li­gent of the ac­cu­sa­tions and tak­ing ac­tion.”

Meloon said Kath­leen Smith, SafeS­port’s in­ves­ti­ga­tor on the case, told her in early March that Steven Lopez was sched­uled to be in­ter­viewed March 13. Smith has since fol­lowed up with Meloon to con­firm that Lopez has been in­ter­viewed and to in­ter­view Meloon again.

SafeS­port CEO Shel­lie Pfohl told USA TO­DAY that while she could not speak about the Lopez case, sev­eral fac­tors can de­ter­mine the length of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing lin­ing up in­ter­views with re­port­ing par­ties and wit­nesses.

“I think at the end of the day, while we would all like our time­line to be as con­cise as pos­si­ble when deal­ing with ev­ery sin­gle re­port that comes in, we are go­ing to choose get­ting it right over brevity any day,” she said.

Meloon had pre­vi­ously ex­pressed con­cern to Smith that ac­tion wouldn’t be taken against the Lopez broth­ers, a frus­tra­tion that stemmed more from a lack of ac­tion af­ter first re­port­ing to USA Taek­wondo in 2006.

SafeS­port found Jean Lopez had sex­u­ally as­saulted Meloon at a tour­na­ment in 1997 when she was 16.

“Now I un­der­stand that it takes time. It’s not based off our emo­tions. They have to do the leg­work and talk to peo­ple and get time­lines and wit­nesses and all that,” Meloon said.

“I un­der­stand that they have to have guide­lines. I’d rather have it be done prop­erly. I’m ac­tu­ally very happy with the process, and not be­cause it’s just go­ing my way. It’s some­thing’s be­ing done.”

In the mean­time, Steven Lopez is free to com­pete and hold camps.

The 39-year-old is taek­wondo’s big­gest star and the most dec­o­rated ath­lete in that sport with three Olympic medals and five world cham­pi­onships.

Steven Lopez qual­i­fied for his 24th na­tional team in Fe­bru­ary and told the Houston Chron­i­cle he in­tends to keep com­pet­ing through the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

SafeS­port made pub­lic on April 4 that Lopez is sub­ject to in­terim re­stric­tions, but it’s not clear what those are. Since he was placed on “in­terim mea­sure-re­stric­tion” on June 19, Lopez has com­peted in last year’s world cham­pi­onships as well as this year’s U.S. Open and na­tional team tri­als.

Any per­ma­nent or in­terim mea­sures would have to be en­forced by a na­tional gov­ern­ing body, Pfohl said.

USA Taek­wondo ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Steve McNally said he could not com­ment on an “in-process case” but added that USA Taek­wondo is “rig­or­ously en­forc­ing any per­ma­nent or in­terim mea­sures that SafeS­port has handed down to us.”

The Olympic move­ment is un­der scru­tiny for its han­dling of sex­ual abuse cases fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions that long­time USA Gym­nas­tics physi­cian Larry Nas­sar abused hun­dreds of women, in­clud­ing Olympic cham­pi­ons Aly Rais­man, Si­mone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Dou­glas.

The Se­nate Sub­com­mit­tee on Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion, Prod­uct Safety, In­sur­ance, and Data Se­cu­rity will hold a hear­ing on the is­sue Wed­nes­day. Wieber is among those ex­pected to tes­tify.

The bi­par­ti­san House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee in Jan­uary asked the U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee and three na­tional gov­ern­ing bod­ies, in­clud­ing USA Taek­wondo, to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on how they have han­dled complaints. It has since ex­panded its in­quiry to in­clude all na­tional gov­ern­ing bod­ies.

The USOC has long main­tained it does not have the au­thor­ity or re­sources to in­ves­ti­gate abuse complaints. In­stead, it cre­ated SafeS­port, which is charged with ad­ju­di­cat­ing all sex­ual abuse complaints in the Olympic move­ment.

Since it opened, the cen­ter has re­ceived 631 re­ports and closed 320 of those cases as of March 23.

Pfohl said not all of those re­ports led to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Crim­i­nal con­vic­tions and pleas, for ex­am­ple, are deemed a vi­o­la­tion of the SafeS­port code.

A USA TO­DAY analysis of SafeS­port’s pub­lished data­base of dis­ci­plinary ac­tions through April 5 found that 88 of the 152 in­di­vid­u­als, or 57%, fol­lowed a crim­i­nal dis­po­si­tion.

But SafeS­port has shown that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is not nec­es­sary to take ac­tion, and it has done so quickly in other cases.

Fig­ure skat­ing coach Richard Cal­laghan was tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended on March 6, five weeks af­ter SafeS­port was made aware that Cal­laghan had been ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct 19 years ago.

The vol­ume of cases has likely played a role when there are lengthy delays, said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medal­ist in swim­ming and civil rights at­tor­ney who, as an ad­vo­cate for the pro­tec­tion of ath­letes, has lob­bied SafeS­port in an at­tempt to help it im­prove its poli­cies.

“If you look at (the Lopezes’) Face­book page, they are mak­ing a mint out of do­ing what I call hu­man tro­phy work,” Hogshead-Makar said. “They go from club to club to club, and they are Olympians. They give lessons. They have ac­cess to kids and young women. If you want to pri­or­i­tize, which ones do you go af­ter first, I would say they’re right up there.”

De­spite the num­ber of re­ports, the Lopez case pro­vided a po­ten­tial leg up be­cause Alper­stein had al­ready been in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

In June, USA TO­DAY re­ported the sto­ries of two women who said they had told Alper­stein about alleged sex­ual mis­con­duct by Steven Lopez.

Meloon said Lopez, whom she dated on and off for about six years, raped her once and re­peat­edly phys­i­cally as­saulted her. A for­mer mem­ber of the ju­nior na­tional team said she was drugged three times and that Steven Lopez sex­u­ally as­saulted her while she was un­con­scious on one of those oc­ca­sions.

Both al­lowed Alper­stein to share their ac­counts with SafeS­port. In a let­ter ob­tained by USA TO­DAY, he told Meloon in March 2017 that he had shared the women’s ac­counts with the FBI.

USA TO­DAY re­ported in June that Meloon was in­ter­viewed by an agent in May, but FBI spokes­peo­ple said then and this month that they could nei­ther con­firm nor deny the ex­is­tence of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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