LOS ANGELES – A dozen water polo players who have accused their coach of sexual abuse will share nearly $ 14 million after settling a lawsuit against USA Water Polo and a California club.
The athletes alleged that the International Water Polo Club and the national sport governing body failed to protect them from abuse by coach Bahram Hojreh from 2012 to 2017.
The $ 13.85 settlement with USA Water Polo and International Water Polo Club was filed in Orange County Superior Court on Friday. It is paid by the insurer for both organizations.
“We have heard the testimony of the complainants and their allegations are heartbreaking,” Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo, said in a statement. “We hope this will allow them to start a new chapter in their lives.”
The California Supreme Court ruled in April in a case involving aspiring Olympians in taekwondo that sports organizations have a duty to protect athletes.
Attorney Morgan Stewart, who represents 11 of the plaintiffs, said the ruling helped hold USA Water Polo accountable in the case. The USA Taekwondo case set a standard that national governing bodies cannot simply collect fees and avoid liability.
“This is the most absurd way of saying that we are responsible for these clubs, but we are not responsible,” he said. “USA Water Polo’s failures in this regard were just as culpable as the club’s.”
Hojreh, 45, pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 victims, nine of whom were children at the time of the acts. The alleged crimes took place in one-on-one coaching sessions, prosecutors said.
The charges brought by the Orange County District Attorney include obscene acts on a child, sexual penetration with a foreign object and a fraudulent sexual battery, which allege that the victims did not know they were being assaulted because the coach said that the “touch has served a professional purpose.”
“He would go into the pool and say to the girls, ‘This is what’s going to happen in college. You have to get used to it, ”said Stewart. “Then he would go under their swimsuits and attack them. “
The lawsuits said USA Water Polo was negligent in failing to act on reports from the summer of 2017 that Hojreh players at the international club sexually assaulted opponents during matches, which allowed it to get away with it for about eight more months.
The Orange County Register reported that girls from opposing teams came out of the pool, accusing the Hojreh swimmers of attempting to grab and penetrate their genitals underwater. In one game, another coach accused Hojreh of teaching his players this tactic and a scuffle nearly broke out on the pool deck with angry parents screaming and threatening each other.
In a court case, USA Water Polo said it forwarded these June and July 2017 complaints to the US Center for SafeSport, the oversight body formed in 2017 to handle cases of sexual abuse in the Olympic field.
At the time, however, USA Water Polo said it had not received any complaints that Hojreh sexually abused its players. He said he suspended him from the organization when he first received reports of his abuse allegations in January 2018 from SafeSport.
Stewart, however, said USA Water Polo executives did not notify law enforcement at the time – as they had a duty to do so under California law and the SafeSport Code. He said he filed a complaint against Ramsey and senior manager Christy Sicard for failing to report these complaints about the coach to authorities.
USA Water Polo has acknowledged that there is a pending SafeSport investigation and said it is cooperating. He said he was confident he was complying with SafeSport’s policy.
Scandals involving the sexual abuse of young athletes have spilled over into the world of sport and affected several of the 61 Olympic governing bodies, including USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics. The most publicized case concerned Larry Nassar, a doctor of the American gymnastics team imprisoned for assaulting minors including several gold medalists.
Hojreh has been permanently banned from water polo by SafeSport. He is one of 10 USA Water Polo affiliates banned from the sport since 2018 due to criminal matters.
A Hojreh criminal defense attorney, who still faces multiple lawsuits, previously told The Associated Press he never had any flaws in his case after working with hundreds of children for two decades .
Hojreh has coached for almost a quarter of a century and said he has developed “several Olympians”. Until 2018, he served on the board of directors of the Southern California section of USA Water Polo.
Hojreh-related lawsuits are still pending against the Anaheim and Irvine school districts where he coached.