July 29, 2008 in City

Allegations resurface; judo official quits

Thornton accused of abuse while coaching 30 years ago
Associated Press
 
Chris Livingston For the New York Times photo

USA Judo official Fletcher Thornton watches a match during the USA Judo National Junior Olympic Championships. For the New York Times
(Full-size photo)

A high-ranking U.S. judo official has resigned amid accusations that nearly 30 years ago he molested teenage competitors he coached in Spokane.

Fletcher Thornton’s resignation from USA Judo’s board of directors took effect Friday, a day before the New York Times published a story about the allegations.

According to the article, the parents of a judo athlete in the Spokane area, where Thornton coached for a club that practiced at the West Central Community Center, learned about the accusations, hired a lawyer and encouraged the athletes to put together a series of sworn statements in 1981. But their case never got any traction with the authorities.

The main issue, according to Paul Burney, who served as a spokesman for that group, was that Spokane police struggled to determine jurisdiction because the alleged abuse was said to have occurred on the road and at tournaments in other cities.

The governing organization for the sport announced Thornton’s resignation on its Web site Saturday. A spokeswoman said Thornton was a referee at a tournament in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, but he did not participate Saturday and had left by Sunday.

A telephone number listed for Thornton in Middletown, Calif., where he lives, was disconnected.

Jose H. Rodriguez, chief executive of USA Judo, told the Associated Press on Sunday that Thornton was not asked to resign, but that the move puts the spotlight back on the athletes less than two weeks from the start of the Beijing Olympic Games.

The Times’ story said several young athletes in affidavits from 1981 accused Thornton of drugging and sexually molesting teenage competitors he coached in the late 1970s. Another accuser surfaced in 2005, according to the report.

Thornton denied the allegations to the newspaper.

In June, American judo medal hopeful Ronda Rousey drew attention to the issue by posting a blog about it.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has said it opened an inquiry into the allegations.

Rodriguez said a committee investigated the allegations in 1982 and 1983 and found that nobody had filed a formal complaint, leaving the allegations unsubstantiated.

“You can’t just keep bringing back the same affidavits year after year,” he said.

“USA Judo in 1982 and 1983 did do their due diligence, and they gave everybody the opportunity to stand up. There is an appeals process.”

“There should have been an appeal filed if somebody was not happy with the hearing,” he later added.

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