COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio State University Diving Club is asking a federal court to dismiss the claims against it in a lawsuit over allegations that a former coach sexually abused young divers years ago.
Lawyers for the club argued in a Tuesday court filing that as part of the public university, it can’t be sued without its consent under the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, which generally protects the government from lawsuits.
Indianapolis-based USA Diving and the ex-coach, 32-year-old Will Bohonyi, also are defendants in the lawsuit. USA Diving, which put Bohonyi on its list of banned coaches in 2015, has declined to comment. Bohonyi hasn’t responded to attempts to reach him, and the court record lists no attorney for him.
The plaintiffs are three female divers who say that Bohonyi sexually abused and exploited them and that USA Diving didn’t take enough action to stop him from coaching or interacting with other young divers after banning him.
The lawsuit is filed as a class action, seeking to represent USA Diving athletes and the members who traveled or trained with Bohonyi since 2008. It says the women brought the lawsuit to “declare that enough is enough, that no other female athletes should have to endure the ‘disgusting and unnecessary’ exploitation, abuse, and forced labor they have experienced” from people within USA Diving who were gatekeepers to their competitive diving dreams.
Two of the women allege Bohonyi coerced them into sexual acts between 2008 and 2011 while coaching divers at Indiana University, which isn’t named in the lawsuit. One of the women alleges Bohonyi “forced her to trade sex for diving coaching” — on a daily basis at one point — and demanded that she text him sexually explicit photos. The lawsuit doesn’t say whether the divers reported him.
But when Ohio State hired him in September 2012 as a part-time assistant diving coach, he passed a background check and indicated on his application that he’d never been fired or asked to resign by previous employers, which included a Bloomington high school and a summer camp for hundreds of divers in Indiana.
His performance review in June 2013 described him as a hard worker who met expectations and had “good rapport with the divers and their parents.” His listed duties included creating a safe atmosphere for practices and competitions. Under “Opportunities for Improvement,” the assistant coach reviewing him wrote: “Continue to weigh what is right, learn from those around you, be on time and prove dependability.”
His role was increased to full-time in July 2014. The following month, the university was notified of allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a diver he was coaching, then-17-year-old Estee Pryor. The AP doesn’t typically name victims of sexual assault, but Pryor, who is the other named plaintiff in the lawsuit, has spoken publicly and given permission for her name to be used.
The lawsuit alleges the coach’s previous pattern of misconduct continued with Pryor because officials responsible for his oversight hadn’t taken action to stop him. Pryor says she was manipulated by Bohonyi, and she accuses Ohio State of failing to act after receiving photos and videos of sexual encounters between her and the coach.
Ohio State has said that when it learned of the allegations about Pryor, it put Bohonyi on paid leave, notified police, investigated the matter and fired him that month for violating the school’s sexual harassment policy. The campus police investigation was closed at her request but was reopened this January, also at the former diver’s request, and that investigation is pending.
As for any photos, a university spokesman has said “law enforcement has always been in possession of any images that may have existed.”
By KANTELE FRANKO
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