The University of Maryland decided in the 1980s that it had no legal duty to inform police when it learned that its head swimming coach had confessed to sexually abusing a teenage swimmer before joining the university, according to university documents released Wednesday.
Several handwritten notes from officials in 1988 show that Susan Bayly, the university’s in-house counsel, handled the departure of swim coach Rick Curl and, after consulting an assistant attorney general, concluded that no reporting was necessary because the girl had turned 19 and was no longer a minor.
Instead, the university demanded Curl’s resignation, enabling him to return to his coaching duties at the prominent local swim club where the abuse had occurred. He went on to coach thousands of young athletes, some of whom won Olympic gold medals and broke world records.
Last week, Curl was sentenced in Montgomery County Circuit Court to seven years in prison for sexually abusing Kelley Currin, then Kelley Davies, from the time she was 13 until she left for college. She had kept her silence for more than 25 years after signing a confidentiality deal but decided to speak out last summer, leading to Curl’s prosecution.
After they discovered Curl’s abuse, Currin’s parents learned that Curl had become head swim coach at Maryland. They contacted then-Athletic Director Lew Perkins and provided evidence of the abuse, including a letter from Curl admitting to what he had done.
With Curl’s confession and subsequent resignation in 1988, university officials came to a crossroads about what to do with the case, documents show.
Bayly spoke with the girl’s parents and recommended four private lawyers, ranking former local prosecutor Judy Catterton as the top choice.
Bayly’s notes from a conversation with Gerald Davies, Currin’s father, show two numbered options: a civil lawsuit or criminal prosecution. The words “nasty approach” were written next to the criminal option. They were leaning toward having Catterton write a letter to get Curl out of the sport of swimming, Bayly wrote, adding an asterisk with the words “Prevent publicity.”
The parents would later choose, with Catterton’s guidance, to sign a $150,000 confidentiality deal with Curl. Reached by phone last week, Catterton said she did not remember the case being referred from the University of Maryland.
In an interview in February, before the documents were released, Bayly said she recalled no specifics from the case. “I don’t remember anything. That was a long time ago,” she said. “I don’t really have any specific recollection of how that case was handled.”
Bayly, who recently retired from the university, did not return a phone call placed to her home on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the documents, on Sept. 7, 1988, Bayly called Jim Mingle, who was an assistant attorney general for the state and active in advising university lawyers on certain issues, such as contracts.
During that conversation, Bayly’s notes show, they discussed the university’s possible obligations concerning the abuse.
“We discussed UMD’s duty to report,” she wrote. “Concluded no duty b/c statute only applys [sic] to child. Kelley is now 19.”
They agreed, she wrote, that no further action by the university was needed.
The requirements of reporting child abuse and neglect, particularly concerning the age of a sex-abuse victim, were subject to debate at the time of the Curl case.
A subsequent opinion by the Office of the Attorney General, issued in 1993 at the behest of the state legislature, discussed the history of Maryland’s law, particularly the prior notion that it “could reasonably be construed to apply only if the alleged victim were still a child.” In clarifying the law’s intent, the attorney general advised that it required reporting “no matter the age of the victim.”
Brian Ullmann, a spokesman for the university, said in a statement Wednesday that the university has released all documents related to the case.
“These 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,” Ullmann said in his statement. “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.”
Reached by e-mail on Wednesday, Mingle, the assistant attorney general referenced in the university’s documents, reiterated he does not remember the Curl case.
“As I previously told you, I have no recollection of these events at all,” he said. “Reviewing the notes and letters released by the University of Maryland has not jogged my memory.”
Mingle questioned why the university had made “an attempt to shift responsibility” to cast blame on the attorney general’s office rather than its own counsel.
Ullmann said: “It is not the university’s intention to place or deflect responsibility. 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.”
Ellen Mugmon, a long-standing child advocate in Maryland, criticized the university for not reporting the incident.
“The bottom line is: What about the moral obligation? There is nothing that says they couldn’t have reported it,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you do that? They had this letter and knew he was going back to his old place [the swim club]. . . . And they didn’t call the police?”