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Sun Investigates

UMBC coach sexually harassed swimmers, report found. Now, federal investigators are interviewing current and former students.

A university investigation into University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s swim coach of nearly two decades began in late 2020 following several swimmers’ reports of misconduct.

Students told university officials that Chad Cradock inappropriately touched male swimmers, discriminated against female teammates and mishandled Title IX reports, putting students in dangerous situations, according to documents reviewed by The Baltimore Sun.

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Cradock resigned abruptly in December 2020, weeks after he’d been ordered by the university to have no contact with student-athletes and stay off campus, documents show. He, along with the swimmers accusing him, then received a notice of investigation from UMBC on Dec. 24, 2020, and an amended version with two additional swimmers’ allegations on March 3, 2021.

Four days after UMBC sent out the amended notice, the university received word that Cradock had died by suicide.

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In the roughly year and a half since, the investigation has continued — as student-athletes have grieved and grappled with Cradock’s death and misconduct. A final investigative report, completed July 11 by attorneys from an outside law firm hired by UMBC, found Cradock engaged in sexual harassment and created a hostile environment, in violation of the university’s discrimination policy.

Swimmers in recent months also have been interviewed by U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigators looking into the university’s compliance with federal rules barring gender discrimination in education.

One student said in an interview with The Sun that he felt betrayed by UMBC. The Sun, which interviewed five swimmers for this story, is not naming students who say they were sexually assaulted or other students cited in the report, which was supposed to be confidential, for privacy reasons.

“I felt powerless to do anything about it,” he told The Sun. “I have to live with this really dark secret that’s the undertone of my four years. I don’t think I can ever have a normal college experience.”

Oana Brooks, an attorney for Cradock, declined to comment for this story and said his family didn’t wish to be interviewed.

Brooks had raised concerns about the investigation continuing after Cradock’s death and without an opportunity for him to be interviewed. The outside investigators wrote that the allegations against Cradock were “sufficiently serious” for it to continue despite that.

The exact scope of the Justice Department’s investigation into UMBC is unclear, as are potential consequences for any wrongdoing identified. It’s possible the investigation could lead to a monetary settlement and mandated improvements, like a recent probe into San José State University in California.

UMBC is also under an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, the department’s website shows, related to a sexual violence report. The agency and UMBC declined to comment on that probe. It’s unclear whether it’s related to the swim team.

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UMBC swimmers told The Sun that Justice Department civil rights investigators asked about the university’s communication during the investigation and any accommodations they were provided. Students described their confusion and questions about the findings of the law firm’s report for UMBC.

Attorney Rignal Baldwin V represents five of the six swimmers named in the report as those whose complaints prompted the investigation. Baldwin called the UMBC report “incomplete.”

“It appears to have been limited in scope by UMBC to only the last couple years,” said Baldwin, of the firm Baldwin Seraina. “There were scores of witnesses who were not interviewed. There is no indication of when the first complaint was made related to Coach Cradock.”

The Justice Department declined to comment for this story.

Investigators from Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, the law firm that did the investigation for UMBC, did not respond to a request for comment. The firm has billed UMBC $328,992 since January 2021 for its services on this investigation, according to the school.

Dinah Winnick, a UMBC spokeswoman, said in an email the school is cooperating with the Justice Department investigation.

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“As this is an open matter,” Winnick wrote, “it would not be appropriate for the University to provide additional details.”

‘It became normal’

Cradock, 46, became UMBC’s second-ever swimming and diving head coach in 2001 after swimming for the school in the 1990s and then serving as an assistant coach.

He led it to numerous conference title wins for the men’s and women’s teams.

But Cradock’s leadership included misconduct, UMBC’s outside investigators wrote in their 105-page final report.

Cradock reportedly touched numerous male swimmers in their genitals, investigators found, with witnesses and victims describing a pattern in which he would ask the swimmers to touch his shoulder or take their temperature for COVID protocols and use his other arm to assault them. According to the report, six of the male swimmers interviewed reported being touched in the genitals or buttocks; witnesses described observing others subjected to the same conduct.

Several male swimmers also reported Cradock’s hugs from behind while they were wearing just their Speedos, along with attempted kisses and unwanted touching of their stomachs or chests, the report said.

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The behavior was “classic” quid pro quo sexual harassment, investigators wrote, as witnesses said he directed his coaching attention based on whether male swimmers would “play along and participate in this unwelcome contact.”

One swimmer told investigators that if and when a swimmer made it known they didn’t like Cradock’s behavior, he would “pretend like you were not there and would not coach you,” the report said.

“If Coach Cradock was not allowed to do what he wanted to you,” according to a summary of the swimmer’s interview in the report, “he wasn’t going to coach you.”

The team culture around Cradock’s behavior was to minimize it as “just Chad,” according to swimmers interviewed by The Sun.

The report quotes one swimmer telling interviewers their reaction to the investigation was “about time” and another saying they couldn’t name who Cradock touched because there were so many, adding, “It became normal and it never should have been normalized.”

Meanwhile, swimmers told investigators that Cradock was “disengaged” with the women’s team, according to the report’s summaries of interviews. Students described a lack of attention at practices, less sympathetic treatment for injuries and different enforcement of team rules, including consequences for drinking.

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‘One-way funnel’

Investigators also found Cradock created a hostile environment based on sex by failing to properly report alleged Title IX violations involving members of his team, such as sexual misconduct, assault, stalking or relationship violence.

Reports by female swimmers especially were not taken seriously by Cradock, the report said.

People interviewed by The Sun and the university’s outside investigators described a “one-way funnel” under Cradock, where the team would only bring issues to him. He also created a perception, they said, of being close to top school officials.

In one 2018 situation described in the report, Cradock was made aware of alleged Title IX violations, including stalking and verbal abuse, by one of his swimmers. Rather than reporting it immediately, the report said, Cradock “let it fester” for months and “tried to mediate the matter himself.”

The female swimmer who was the target of that behavior, who The Sun is not naming because she said she was sexually assaulted by the other swimmer, said Cradock told her if she made a report to other university officials, she would make it “so much worse for yourself and the rest of the team.”

She said when she told Craddock about the assault, which was later corroborated by a different Title IX investigation, he told her it was her fault and chastised her for “messing” with the other swimmer’s head. Sometime later, he arranged a surprise meeting, forcing her to “sit across from my abuser,” she said.

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The report acknowledged that at least two swimmers alleged Cradock discouraged them from making reports to the university and found Cradock violated his no-contact order by texting some swimmers. But investigators wrote there wasn’t enough evidence Cradock retaliated against swimmers, in part because there wasn’t evidence of “specific adverse action.”

What happens next?

It’s likely the Justice Department investigation will examine UMBC’s response to allegations against Cradock and its investigatory process.

Both Baldwin and an attorney representing a sixth swimmer said their clients were considering their options when asked about any plans to file lawsuits.

In interviews, students described feeling left in the dark for much of the lengthy investigation on behalf of the university. They said they were confused by shifting points of contact and a change in how Cradock’s actions were being examined.

Winnick, UMBC’s spokeswoman, declined to comment on the investigation’s duration or its shift from a Title IX policy investigation to one considering discrimination policy violations. She cited the ongoing federal investigation, saying “comment at this time would not be appropriate.”

Swimmers also questioned whether the university failed to properly respond to earlier complaints against Cradock.

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The UMBC Police chief said the department looked into an anonymous 2015 complaint against Cradock about a hidden camera in a locker, but “could not find any truth to it.” Chief Bruce Perry said that was the only criminal complaint or investigation by his department related to Cradock.

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According to the report by the outside law firm, one swimmer alerted UMBC employees about inappropriate behavior in mid-2019.

That swimmer’s attorney, Naomi Shatz of Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein, said her client’s college experience was “destroyed by Coach Cradock.”

Title IX reports included as exhibits in the UMBC investigation range from that swimmer’s anonymous 2019 report to an email sent to the athletic director in October 2020 describing “favoritism” and failure by Cradock to properly handle Title IX complaints, to a flurry of reports in December 2020 after Cradock was removed from campus.

But the investigators the university hired wrote that only documents they “relied upon” were attached, without addressing whether any others existed. And their investigation didn’t delve into possible wrongdoing by any other coaches or administrators.

One student interviewed by attorneys on the university’s behalf remarked: “I don’t know how the higher ups did not know.”

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A footnote on the report’s final page stated “it does not appear” assistant coaches made proper Title IX reports, “despite witnesses indicating they disclosed pertinent information” to them.

“UMBC’s Title IX process prioritizes the school’s reputation over student safety,” Baldwin said. “Until that changes, no amount of procedural reform will make a difference.”


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