Jean Lopez able to coach taekwondo again after arbitrator lifts ban for sexual misconduct
An arbitrator has overturned a ban on taekwondo coach Jean Lopez, setting aside the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s finding that he’d violated its code of conduct for what it called a “decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct.”
The decision Tuesday reinstates Lopez and allows him to resume coaching after SafeSport had declared him permanently ineligible in April. A procedural issue reduced that ban to temporary restrictions in August.
“He’s happy,” attorney Howard Jacobs told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday evening. “He’s said all along that the allegations were false. He can get back to coaching now. That’s a good development.”
The decision is only the third case SafeSport has lost in arbitration but comes a month after a ban against Lopez’s brother, two-time Olympic champion Steven Lopez, was overturned. That ban also had been issued for sexual misconduct.
SafeSport sanctioned Jean Lopez in April after finding him in violation of the SafeSport code for sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct involving a minor. SafeSport found he had assaulted Mandy Meloon, Heidi Gilbert and a third woman with whom he had also engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with starting when she was 17.
Lopez has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, both in interviews with SafeSport and in June 2017 with USA TODAY Sports.
“I’ve never been inappropriate with anyone,” Lopez told USA TODAY Sports.
Meloon and Gilbert were among three women who spoke with USA TODAY Sports in June 2017 and described sexual misconduct by Jean Lopez dating back to 1997. The third woman who spoke with USA TODAY Sports is Gabriela Joslin and is not the same as the third woman in the SafeSport case.
Joslin has since come forward publicly and is among the group of five women suing the Lopezes, USA Taekwondo and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Meloon first filed a complaint with USA Taekwondo in 2006 that Jean Lopez had sexually assaulted her at a tournament in 1997. She was 16 at the time. While USA Taekwondo dismissed her claim at the time, SafeSport’s investigation found it to have merit.
“This matter concerns a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct by an older athlete/coach abusing his power to groom, manipulate and, ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes,” SafeSport said in its April decision, which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
“Given the number of incidents reported over a span of several years and by multiple reporting parties, most of whom have no reasonable motive to fabricate an allegation – much less multiple, distinct incidents – of misconduct, the totality of the circumstances clearly shows a recurrent pattern of behavior on the part of Jean."
SafeSport initially issued a permanent ban against Lopez, but lifted it in August and replaced it with temporary sanctions after Meloon and Gilbert’s attorney said they and the unnamed woman would not appear at an arbitration hearing. SafeSport’s rules for arbitration do not require reporting parties to participate in the appeal process. If they do, they do not have to appear in person or provide live testimony.
Stephen Estey, the women’s attorney, said in August that he was willing to have the women provide statements or have them stipulate to what they told SafeSport investigators. But they were going to be deposed as part of their civil lawsuit, and he did not want to subject them to repeated questioning by Lopez and his attorneys.
“I don’t want to subject my clients to additional trauma," Estey said then.
A similar issue arose when Steven Lopez appealed his ban for sexual misconduct with a minor, and the arbitrator cited the absence of the reporting party as a reason for his decision to overturn the sanction. SafeSport only brought one investigator to that hearing while Steven Lopez’s sister, Diana, was among several who testified.
Estey pointed out that many of the women had been told by Donald Alperstein, who investigated allegations against the Lopez brothers for USA Taekwondo, that they could remain anonymous and would not have to testify.
USA Taekwondo began investigating the Lopez brothers for sexual misconduct in 2015. Despite that, they were still allowed to go to the Rio Olympics – Steven as a competitor and Jean as his coach. Their cases were turned over to SafeSport when it opened in March 2017, and Alperstein also alerted the FBI and authorities in the Lopezes’ hometown of Sugar Land, Texas.
Meloon confirmed she was interviewed by the FBI in the spring of 2017. It’s not clear what, if anything, became of the case.
Source: Read Full Article