Former Kentucky swimmers sue ex-coaches, AD Mitch Barnhart, alleging 'sexually hostile environment'

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Two former Kentucky swim team members have sued the school, former coach Lars Jorgensen and athletic director Mitch Barnhart, alleging sexual assaults including rape by the former coach and claiming the school “purposefully” disregarded multiple credible reports of inappropriate sexual relationships.

The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court by former swimmer and assistant coach Briggs Alexander and a woman identified only as Jane Doe said Kentucky empowered Jorgensen to “foster a toxic, sexually hostile environment within the swim program and to prey on, sexually harass, and commit horrific sexual assaults.”

The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they were sexually assaulted unless they consent to being identified, as Alexander did.

Alexander, who according to the lawsuit now identifies as male, claims that Jorgensen “spent years” grooming him and creating a sexually hostile environment, including sexually assaulting and raping him. The suit also alleges that Jorgensen groomed Jane Doe over several years after her arrival as a Kentucky freshman, made sexualized comments and asserted control over her.

The ex-coach also “repeatedly and violently” assaulted an assistant coach, identified as Jane Doe II, starting with a December 2013 Christmas party with staff at his home.

The lawsuit also alleges that former Kentucky head coach Gary Conelly, who led the program from 1991 until retiring in 2013, did not follow up on being told of previous alleged misconduct by Jorgensen at Toledo. It also alleged that Barnhart did not follow up an email about allegations or investigate them and hired Jorgensen, the suit said, and accused him of intentionally concealing the allegations.

Jorgensen did not respond to messages left by the AP on Saturday but told The Athletic none of the allegations are true. Conelly also did not respond to a message left by the AP but told The Athletic that he contacted the former Toledo swimmer and was told she began dating Jorgensen after her swimming career. He added that it’s not uncommon for coaches to have a relationship with one of their former swimmers.

A statement sent to AP on Saturday by Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton said Jorgensen is no longer employed by the university. It said the university takes sexual assault allegations “very seriously” but that it does not discuss specific personnel issues.

The lawsuit, first reported Friday by The Athletic, also said Kentucky’s athletic department received credible reports from University of Toledo assistant coach Mark Howard that Jorgensen “was a sexual predator” who couldn’t be trusted around young women while at the school in Ohio. Howard had discovered a video that showed Jorgensen having sexual intercourse with a female swimmer who appeared to be incapacitated, the lawsuit said, and reported the incident to school officials.

Howard’s report to a Toledo associate head coach was not followed up, the suit said.

Rather than investigate the allegations, the suit added, Kentucky chose to conceal them and hire Jorgensen as an assistant in 2012 and received numerous allegations from various sources during his 10-year tenure as head coach that either weren’t documented or pursued. Howard reported the allegations at Toledo to Conelly, but Conelly didn’t respond after stating via email that he would follow up, the suit said.

Jorgensen resigned last June after, a swimming-based website, reported that he had been suspended for a NCAA violation. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported in August that Kentucky and Jorgensen reached a $75,000 settlement but said the agreement did not constitute admission of fault, liability or wrongdoing by either side.

SafeSport, which investigates and resolves allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct, added Jorgensen to a disciplinary database last November.

Kentucky said it takes concerns raised by employees and potential employees seriously and reviews such concerns before hiring.

The university said in its statement that when “issues between employees (or any members of our community) involve concerns over allegations of harassment or misconduct,” policy calls for reporting them to its Office for Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity.

“Our Athletics Department takes those issues and those policies very seriously as the welfare and well-being of all of our employees and students is a priority,” the statement said.

“In such cases, a victim or complainant is reached out to a number of times during the course of a review. It is entirely up to the victim or complainant to decide whether they want to participate in such a review or not. Part of ensuring the well-being of our people is giving them the opportunity to decide whether they want to participate in an investigation of this kind.”


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