The U.S. Center for SafeSport said Tuesday afternoon that it will not complete its investigation of sexual misconduct against two-time U.S. pairs figure skating champion John Coughlin as requested last month by U.S. Figure Skating, the sport’s national governing body.
Coughlin took his own life Jan. 18, one day after he received an interim suspension from SafeSport. The 33-year-old was facing three reports of sexual misconduct against him, two of them involving minors, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports last month. The person was not authorized to talk publicly about the matter.
“Since the Center’s response and resolution process works to protect the sport community and other covered persons from the risks associated with sexual misconduct and abuse,” SafeSport said in its statement, “it cannot advance an investigation when no potential threat exists.”
At the sport’s national championships three weeks ago in Detroit, USFS executive director David Raith said it was “imperative” that SafeSport complete its investigation of Coughlin and encouraged it to hire a “third-party investigator or outside counsel” to provide assistance.
But, two days earlier, SafeSport removed from its website the notification of Coughlin’s interim suspension due to his death, and SafeSport spokesman Dan Hill said in a telephone interview at the time that it was “unlikely” the investigation would continue.
“We are not a punitive body,” Hill said in January. “When someone is suspended, it is to keep individuals safe. It’s all about the safety of the reporting party. In this instance, sadly, the safety issue isn’t there now.”
SafeSport’s code requires that it report allegations involving minors to local law enforcement, or to federal authorities if the allegations are not limited to one jurisdiction.
“If there are reports of abuse to a minor, the Center reports those to law enforcement – nothing subjective about it – it’s mandatory,” Hill said Tuesday.
On Tuesday evening, USFS issued a statement reflecting its concern about SafeSport’s decision:
“U.S. Figure Skating is disappointed to learn of the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s decision to close the investigation into the allegations against the late John Coughlin. The allegations and Coughlin’s death have left his family, those who reported the allegations, many in the figure skating community and survivors of abuse searching for answers.”
USFS said it would have no further comment at this time. It was unknown what course of action, if any, the governing body might take next to seek closure on a matter that has rocked the sport.
Coughlin was a fixture at skating competitions and rinks around the country as a coach, TV commentator and a rising star within both USFS and the International Skating Union, the sport’s worldwide federation.
In a Jan. 7 email to USA TODAY, Coughlin called the allegations against him “unfounded.”
“While I wish I could speak freely about the unfounded allegations levied against me, the SafeSport rules prevent me from doing so since the case remains pending,” he wrote. “I note only that the SafeSport notice of allegation itself stated that an allegation in no way constitutes a finding by SafeSport or that there is any merit to the allegation.”