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Paralympic swimmer accuses former teammate of rape, abuse; Alleges officials knew and turned ‘a blind eye’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges months of physical, sexual, and mental abuse for a Paralympian at the hands of his former teammate. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the United States Center for SafeSport knew of the abuse and did nothing.

Filed on Nov. 11, 2022, the lawsuit is against Paralympian Robert Griswold, a Gold and Silver-medal winning swimmer, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

Warning: This article contains graphic content that might be upsetting for some readers

According to the lawsuit, the now 19-year-old plaintiff was born with autism and suffered from developmental delay and intellectual disability their entire life. They didn't begin speaking until the age of six and currently only have the mental capacity of a five-year-old.

The lawsuit explains the plaintiff, a Paralympic athlete and former teammate of Griswold, defied "all odds" to get where they were only to have their life "utterly shattered by rape and abuse when [they were] paired with a team member who was a violent sexual predator."

According to the court documents, Griswold met the plaintiff in June of 2021. During that time, the lawsuit alleges Griswold made a "concerted effort" to "befriend" the plaintiff. These actions were allegedly done so to gain the plaintiff's trust and "lure" them and their parents into a false sense of security.

The lawsuit alleges by the time they had traveled in August of 2021 to Tokyo to compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games the "grooming intensified." According to the court documents, the plaintiff was placed in Griswold's bedroom after the USOPC assigned Griswold to be a supervisor of the plaintiff. This is when the lawsuit states the sexual assaults on the plaintiff began.

The court documents state this happened even though USOPC and SafeSport had received previous accusations against Griswold.

According to the lawsuit, Griswold was added to the SafeSport database in Sept. of 2020 for "allegations of misconduct" regarding previous, similar predatory and abusive behavior that happened on at least one prior occasion. However, his suspension was lifted before the 2020 Tokyo games.

Additionally, the lawsuit states the USOPC withheld information about the previous allegations from the plaintiff and their parents.

In the court documents, one member of the Paralympic swimming team stated:

Negligence and secrecy is what allowed the abuse of some of our most vulnerable teammates on U.S. Paralympic Swimming. . . . Administration and leadership within the organization withheld pertinent information to the safety and well-being of the majority of their athletes to protect the reputation and privilege of a favored individual. They are equally responsible. Had our community been made aware of
all previous allegations, something as heinous as that which has now occurred would have most likely been avoided.

Member of the Paralympic swimming team

According to the lawsuit, Griswold told the plaintiff that if they told anyone about what was happening that the plaintiff would get in trouble, and "the police would come."

After the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic games, the plaintiff moved to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (OPTC).

Again, the lawsuit states the USOPC failed to alert the plaintiff or their parents about the previous allegations of abuse against Griswold.

Once in Colorado Springs, the lawsuit said Griswold acted as the plaintiff's chaperone and coach. Eventually, Griswold reportedly told the plaintiff's parents they were "underperforming" and suggested they take away their phone and laptop. However, when the plaintiff's parents spoke to the coach, they found the plaintiff wasn't underachieving and this was a "false narrative" Griswold constructed "as a way to exert extreme control" over the plaintiff.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff began losing weight and had frequent, uncontrollable bowel movements. When his parents contacted the members of the nutrition department, the lawsuit alleges the plaintiff's parents "were essentially scolded for questioning Defendant USOPC's handling of Plaintiff."

The lawsuit states the plaintiff began fighting back against Griswold after an incident involving the plaintiff's passport reportedly being hidden by Griswold. According to the court documents, the plaintiff refused to take showers, which is where Griswold reportedly would rape and sexually abuse them, began calling their parents more frequently, and began writing stories.

In one story, titled "Spookley and the Hurricane," the plaintiff writes about a group of friends who defeated a powerful hurricane called "Hurricane Robert." In that story, the plaintiff referred to a "monster" that caused a "terrible mess."

The plaintiff's parents asked them about the story and that's when court documents said they finally revealed the physical and verbal abuse they had been enduring.

At this time, the plaintiff did not disclose the sexual abuse.

In July of 2022, the lawsuit said the plaintiff's parents flew to Colorado Springs for a scheduled trip. During this time, the plaintiff's parents were alerted that they had begun "binge eating." After that, the plaintiff's parents requested to meet with the swimming coach to express their concern over the hurricane story and what was going on between him and Griswold.

According to the lawsuit, the USOPC "declined to respond to the issue." The Paralympic Swimming coach "reassured" the plaintiff's parents that they were "going to be fine" and said that Griswold would be moving out of the OPTC soon because he was getting married.

In August of 2022 when the plaintiff returned to the OPTC, they believed they had "escaped Griswold's continuing abuse." However, a few weeks later, Griswold returned to the OPTC.

Shortly after Griswold's return, the lawsuit states the plaintiff told their mother during a Face-Time video call that Griswold had shaken them violently, causing them to hit their head on the wall.

According to the lawsuit, this is when the plaintiff began revealing details about the sexual abuse. The lawsuit states their parents called the Paralympic Swimming coach and said if he didn't file a report with SafeSport, they'd do it themselves. The coach responded that he would do so immediately.

On or about Aug. 21, 2022, the lawsuit states the plaintiff finally told their parents the extent of the physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Their parents shortly arrived at the OPTC and brought them back home.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff has continuously told their parents "thank you for saving me" from Griswold.

To this day, the lawsuit states that the plaintiff remains fearful of Griswold, believing him to know where the plaintiff lives and fearing that Griswold "is going to kill [the plaintiff.]"

Repeated failures

The lawsuit alleges the USOPC and SafeSport failed the plaintiff and allowed the abuse to happen.

After the plaintiff's parents became aware of the abuse and expressed their concerns to the USOPC, the lawsuit alleges the USOPC "failed to investigate the issue and summarily and dismissively told Plaintiff's parents that Plaintiff was just fine, and that Griswold posed absolutely no risk to Plaintiff."

To further the allegations against the USOPC and SafeSport, the lawsuit claims the organizations knew of prior allegations made against Griswold but "turned a blind eye and/or conspired to cover-up" the allegations on every occasion.

The lawsuit alleges that Griswold was enabled due to his success as a Paralympic swimmer and used his status in the community to "carry out a systematic pattern of abuse" and target vulnerable athletes.

The lawsuit alleges the USOPC and SafeSport took "extensive efforts to shield and protect Griswold."

These actions were allegedly made despite the lawsuit outlining how SafeSport is meant to safeguard "amateur athletes against abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse."

The Safe Sport Act, which was authorized in 2017, is meant to develop and enforce policies, procedures, and training to prevent abuse and misconduct.

The lawsuit outlines sixteen claims for relief:

  • First Claim for Relief: Assault and Battery (Against Defendant Griswold)
  • Second Claim for Relief: Invasion of Privacy (Against Defendant Griswold)
  • Third Claim for Relief: Negligence (Against Defendant USOPC)
  • Fourth Claim for Relief: Negligent Supervision, Training, Retention, and Entrustment (Against Defendant USOPC)
  • Fifth Claim for Relief: Negligent Failure to Warn (Against Defendant USOPC)
  • Sixth Claim for Relief: Gross Negligence (Against Defendant USOPC)
  • Seventh Claim for Relief: Negligence (Against Defendant SafeSport)
  • Eighth Claim for Relief: Negligent Supervision, Training, Retention, and Entrustment (Against Defendant SafeSport)
  • Ninth Claim for Relief: Negligent Failure to Warn (Against Defendant SafeSport)
  • Tenth Claim for Relief: Gross Negligence (Against Defendant SafeSport)
  • Eleventh Claim for Relief: Express/Implied Agency (Against Defendants Griswold, USOPC, and SafeSport)
  • Twelfth Claim for Relief: Fraud and Misrepresentation (Against Defendant USOPC)
  • Thirteenth Claim for Relief: Fraud and Misrepresentation (Against Defendant SafeSport)
  • Fourteenth Claim for Relief: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Against Defendants Griswold, USOPC, and SafeSport)
  • Fifteenth Claim for Relief: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (Against Defendants Griswold, USOPC, and SafeSport)
  • Sixteenth Claim for Relief: Civil Conspiracy (Against Defendants USOPC and SafeSport)

The lawsuit states, "As a direct result of Defendant Griswold's acts, and the repeated failures of Defendants USOPC and SafeSport, as outlined herein, Plaintiff has suffered severe physical injuries, pain and suffering, and extreme mental and emotional distress, most of which Plaintiff's likely to endure for the rest of [their] life."

Since this happened, the lawsuit states the plaintiff no longer feels safe living or training at the OPTC, attending Paralympic events, or being within the care of the USOPC. It goes on to state the plaintiff "had to make the difficult decision to leave behind [their] lifelong dream."

According to the Colorado Springs Police Department, Griswold is being investigated for criminal charges related to these allegations. The CSPD said due to this being an ongoing investigation, they can't provide any further information.

13 Investigates found that SafeSport had issued a temporary suspension for Griswold due to "allegations of misconduct" on Aug. 23, 2022.

Monday, the USOPC provided 13 Investigates with a statement regarding the lawsuit.

“The allegations brought forth by the complaint filed today are extremely concerning and we take them very seriously. We’ve made the decision to place two staff members on administrative leave and have also stopped the work of several contractors with U.S. Paralympics Swimming. We're also continuing our investigation of the allegations to help us determine the facts, and we are committed to taking appropriate action.”

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee

Read the full lawsuit below:

Warning, the content of the lawsuit might be upsetting for some readers

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Shelby Filangi

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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