A three-year United States Department of Justice investigation released Monday found that University of Maryland, Baltimore County administrators knew about allegations of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination by a former head coach and failed to protect the students on his team.

The investigation found that the university allowed Chad Cradock, who coached the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, “to do as he pleased without consequence, including engaging in physical sexual assaults” against students between 2015 and 2020.

“We take full responsibility for what happened, and we commit ourselves not only to addressing the failures, but also to rebuilding our community’s trust,” UMBC President Valerie Sheares Ashby said in an emailed statement to the campus community Monday afternoon.

The Justice Department found that UMBC did not devote enough resources to comply with Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. As a result, Cradock engaged “in sex-based harassment, including unwanted sexual touching of male student-athletes, as well as sex discrimination against female student-athletes, on an ongoing basis for years.”

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Cradock was put on leave in October 2020 and died by suicide in March 2021.

‘There’s no way no one knew’

Cradock had up to 79 students on the team at a time who spent time with him in and out of the pool, according to the report. He hosted official and unofficial gatherings at his home and demanded to know everything about students’ lives: grades, schedules, family dynamics, alcohol consumption, sex lives, mental health and sexually transmitted infections. He’d take his “favorites” to get their hair cut or out to eat and texted them late at night.

Students told investigators they faced a choice: “either succumb to the Head Coach’s sexual advances, which came with more coaching, more competitive opportunities, and more leniency for rule violations, or decline the Head Coach’s sexual advances, and risk losing their scholarships, housing, their ‘swim family,’ and other consequences.”

On a daily basis, the DOJ report said, the male swimmers were subjected to unwanted sexual touching, typically while wearing speedos and often in plain sight. Cradock would kiss them on the neck, hug them from behind, give them massages and trace his fingers from their belly buttons toward their genitals.

“These behaviors often occurred in view and earshot of other team members and other Athletics Department staff,” the report stated. “Several students reported to the Department their belief that Athletics Department staff were aware of the Head Coach’s sexually inappropriate behavior towards student-athletes. This conduct was so prevalent and so obvious, one student told us, ‘There’s no way no one knew.’ ”

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The report said Cradock’s behavior was “particularly brazen” in locker rooms and bathrooms when he found students alone.

The abuse lasted for years for some swimmers, the report stated. Seniors would warn freshmen about it, and the male swimmers found methods to avoid the unwanted contact, such as walking quickly when passing him, crossing their arms over their pelvises and avoiding eye contact. Some swimmers said it impacted their performance, and it brought on panic attacks for others. Some contemplated leaving, and some decided to quit.

The Justice Department found that there were allegations of sexual misconduct as early as 2015.

That summer, a staff member received an anonymous letter that said a coach or athletic department staffer used a locker to film male students in the shower. “He is a real creep and makes us students uncomfortable. Help!” the letter said.

Athletic department staff quickly determined thatthe locker belonged to Cradock, then removed Cradock’s backpack from the locker before reporting it to the campus police department. They didn’t inspect the locker until approximately three days later, when it was already empty.

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Word of the letter spread throughout the senior administration and athletic department staff, investigators found. A couple of administrators told Cradock about the letter and warned him that the police planned to search the locker for a camera. No camera was found by police after the second search, and the investigation was closed.

“As admitted by the University, the University police’s delay and administrators’ actions rendered the investigation unreliable and ineffective,” the DOJ report stated.

The abuse continued even after one of the male swimmers reported it to the athletic department in 2019, according to the DOJ.

While some of the 70 people the DOJ interviewed said Cradock worked for the team’s best interest and described him as “loving and playful,” others said that he “weaponized information against student-athletes to sexually abuse male student-athletes and control and manipulate team dynamics in a manner that harmed female student-athletes.”

The hostile environment for the women looked a little different, according to the report. They were sexually harassed by their male teammates. Both the male swimmers and staff would openly call them “Too fat to be D-1″ athletes. The male swimmers would expose their genitals during practice, and Cradock encouraged relationships between the men and women swimmers.

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There was also favoritism for the men over the women. The DOJ found documentation that showed Cradock helped the male students secure mental health services, but a female student wasn’t given any help after disclosing her eating disorder and suicide attempt.

The report also noted that when the women reported being harassed and abused by the male swimmers to Cradock, the coach blamed the women. Instead of reporting it to the Title IX Office, he’d conduct his own version of mediation.

Exit surveys showed that numerous student athletes reported the favoritism and the coach’s inappropriate involvement in their lives, according to the DOJ. The surveys were supposed to be reviewed by athletic department supervisors, but no action was taken for several years. Cradock received glowing performance reviews instead.

Once notified of the harassment, the Title IX office’s delayed response was “inadequate,” the report stated. The men who were reported continued to practice with the team and faced no consequences, nor did Cradock for failing to report it. Instead, the coach was invited to serve as a member of the Title IX Board of Review.

‘We let our community down’

Despite the conclusion of the DOJ, the university will continue to face ramifications. Several students have filed lawsuits against the university alleging that it looked the other way. Two male swimmers allege in a civil suit filed in Baltimore County District Court that Cradock touched their genitals, hugged and kissed them. When they told him his behavior made them uncomfortable, he dismissed their complaints.

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The suit says that when students tried to rebuff his advances, he would stop coaching them and ignore them during meetings and practices. “It was clear to members of the team that if they wanted to have a successful swimming career at UMBC, they had to tolerate Coach Cradock’s sexual assaults. For many athletes … their ability to complete their educations depending on the swimming scholarships that paid for their attendance at UMBC,” the lawsuit said.

“The institution was not interested in doing anything about gender and sexual-based violence,” said a former employee of the UMBC Title IX office who did not want to be identified because they still work in the field and fear losing their job. In 2020, when more than half a dozen swimmers were coming forward, suggestions by the Title IX office on how to help support students and deal with the issues were largely ignored, the former employee said.

The former employee said they thought administrators failed to believe the allegations at first because the coach was someone they knew and liked. ”People don’t believe that nice people, people who have been in their homes, could perpetuate this type of abuse,” they said.

It wasn’t until a group of swimmers reported Cradock for instructing them to lie about testing positive for COVID-19 in 2020 that the university began its investigation, according to the DOJ report.

The university then hired a law firm to investigate since the Title IX office “lacked sufficient staff to both support these students and investigate their claims,” according to the DOJ. The law firm’s final report was finished in July 2021 and concluded that Cradock engaged in sexual harassment and created a hostile environment, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The DOJ called that investigation “overly narrow in scope” and the delays in completing it “unreasonable.” On top of that, it wasn’t read by the officials tasked with reforming the UMBC’s Title IX office, according to the DOJ.

“And so, despite numerous lawsuits, outside consultants, a campus-wide Title IX review, and two re-brandings of the Title IX Office, our investigation found that the University has yet to take the necessary steps to reform how it responds to sex discrimination, including sexual harassment,” the DOJ report stated.

Freeman A. Hrabowski, UMBC’s president until 2022, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.

Sheares Ashby, the university’s current president, said in her email to the university community on Monday that the DOJ’s findings would be difficult to read but that it was important to do so “because understanding and acknowledging the findings will allow our community to begin the work of moving forward.”

She apologized to the students who were harmed but wrote that she was grateful to those who “spoke up and took action” using their “courage and strength.”

“And I am committed to ensuring that such failures never happen again. UMBC let you down, and we let our community down,” wrote Sheares Ashby. “We did not live up to our values, and that is inexcusable.”

She said that UMBC cooperated during the investigation and that the university will share a signed agreement with the DOJ that will specify “critical changes” in the way the school responds to reports of sexual misconduct and discrimination.

But other changes are already in progress, Sheares Ashby wrote. She created a new role called Vice President of Institutional Equity and Civil Rights when she took office. UMBC also changed the athletic department’s structure, governance and reporting mechanisms. The athletic director reports straight to her.

“The failures between 2015 and 2020 identified by the DOJ were the collective responsibility of many individuals,” wrote Sheares Ashby. “Those who were identified as failing to comply with their Title IX obligations — whether through action or inaction — will be held accountable.”

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