An attorney advising the University of Maryland recommended against seeking prosecution or reporting a swim coach who had allegedly abused a teenager at a private club, university officials said Wednesday.
Documents released Wednesday by the school shed light on its response nearly 25 years ago to accusations involving Rick Curl, who was the head swim coach at the time. Immediately after the abuse was revealed, the university demanded Curl's resignation, but for decades he continued coaching thousands of swimmers — and Olympic competitors — at the club he founded outside Washington.
Curl, now 63, pleaded guilty in February to sexually abusing Kelley Currin more times than either could remember for about four years beginning when she was 13 years old. He was sentenced to seven years in prison last week.
"I Rick Curl do declare of my own free will and volition that I have had sexual intercourse with a minor," he wrote in a 1986 letter. "I knew at the time of intercourse she was a minor."
After Currin's parents provided the confession letter signed by Curl, the university sought advice from the attorney general's office in 1988 on whether to seek legal action against Curl, documents show.
The university concluded after an informational briefing over the telephone with an assistant attorney general that no action was needed beyond demanding his resignation, according to the university's documents.
It's unclear when the university first obtained Curl's letter of admission. His employment at the school, which began in August 1987, lasted a year. No abuse at the university under Curl has been alleged.
The documents also note that Currin's family was not interested in criminal prosecution. Her father, Gerald Davies, called prosecution a "nasty approach" and said the family wanted to "prevent publicity," university records show.
A one-page handwritten note of the Sept. 7, 1988, conversation between the university's in-house counsel, Susan Bayly, and Assistant Attorney General James J. Mingle provides the only record of the university's decision not to alert police or prosecutors.
The note states, "We documented UMD's duty to report. Concluded no duty [because] statute only applys to 'child' & Kelley is now 19." The note continues, "Agreed no further action by UMD needed."
University officials and Mingle interpret the jotted notes differently.
Brian Ullmann, an assistant vice president at the university, said the documents show that "the university confronted Mr. Curl, demanded his resignation, notified the attorney general's office, and was advised by the attorney general's office that no further reporting was required.
"This is truly an unfortunate and regrettable situation, but we continue to believe that the university's actions were both reasonable and appropriate at the time."
Mingle, now counsel at Cornell University, said that while he has no recollection of the conversation or the abuse Curl admitted, he believes the university is attempting to "shift responsibility for the judgments that were made from the university to the office of the attorney general."
Mingle said the university note "makes clear that [Bayly] briefed me by phone and, based on what she told me, I concurred in the judgments that had already been made by university officials and their campus counsel."
Beyond that, Mingle said, he is reluctant to reconstruct events from 1988 based on a sparse record.
"It is not the university's intention to place or deflect responsibility," Ullmann said in a statement. "We believe we acted reasonably at the time, but I think we all understand that we are going to be judged for our collective actions made 25 years ago. The decision to release all of the documents in our possession was made so that those judgments could be made in the context of full disclosure and transparency."
Reporting standards for child sexual abuse were the subject of much debate at the time. The General Assembly had passed a law a year earlier that expanded reporting requirements, but early on, lawyers interpreted the statute to require notification only if a victim were still a minor.
A 1993 written opinion by the attorney general's office concluded that regardless of the victim's age, "we believe that the General Assembly meant to ensure that the appropriate investigatory and prosecutorial authorities would learn of all instances in which a child was victimized."
Reporting all instances of abuse could protect children still at risk and serve the state's interest to prosecute the guilty, the opinion states.
Ed Vasquez, a spokesman for Currin's California-based attorney, Robert Allard, said the documents prove that Currin has told the truth from "Day One and that this was the worst-kept secret in the swimming world." Vasquez slammed USA Swimming for its relationship with Curl, who was honored for his coaching and provided with high-profile assignments.
Currin has called for Congress to investigate USA Swimming.
USA Swimming has defended its response to sex abuse in the sport and developed a safety program. The organization said it launched an investigation immediately upon learning of Currin's abuse in April 2012.
Curl, co-founder of the Curl-Burke Swim Club, was banned for life by USA Swimming in September 2012 and charged a month later. He is a married a father of six from Vienna, Va.
Curl's attorney, Thomas J. Kelly Jr., declined to comment.
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