U.S. Paralympic champion sexually abused teammate, lawsuit alleges


A decorated U.S. Paralympic swimmer repeatedly sexually abused an intellectually-impaired teammate at the Tokyo Games, as well as at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, where the two athletes were paired together as roommates, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court.

The 63-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado states that Robert Griswold “maliciously targeted and groomed” Parker Egbert, a 19-year old who has autism and has suffered from developmental delays his entire life, taking advantage of his teammate’s intellectual disability that “rendered him vulnerable and naive to abuse.”

“This case is a horrific tragedy, where a young man who defied all odds to become a world-class Paralympic swimmer had his life utterly shattered by rape and abuse when he was paired with a team member who was a violent sexual predator,” the complaint states.

Griswold did not respond to an email seeking comment Friday and has said nothing publicly about the allegations, which first surfaced last month on the popular swimming site SwimSwam. He was given a temporary suspension by SafeSport on Aug. 23 for “allegations of misconduct” and is not allowed to compete while the case remains open.

The lawsuit charges the USOPC and SafeSport with negligence for failing to protect Egbert and for allowing Griswold close access to the athlete, even though Griswold had faced prior allegations of misconduct and had received a previous temporary suspension in September 2020, which was lifted before the Tokyo Paralympics.

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“The allegations brought forth by the complaint filed today are extremely concerning and we take them very seriously,” a USOPC spokesman said in a statement. “We’ve made the decision to place two staff members on administrative leave and have also stopped the work of several contractors with U.S. Paralympics Swimming. We’re also continuing our investigation of the allegations to help us determine the facts, and we are committed to taking appropriate action.”

Representatives for U.S. Paralympics Swimming did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday. Emails sent to Erin Popovich, the organization’s director, and Nathan Manley, the associate director, received automatic replies with both officials saying they’re “currently away on leave.”

A spokesman for SafeSport, the five-year-old nonprofit organization tasked with investigating and preventing sexual abuse in Olympic sports organizations, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman confirmed to The Washington Post last month that there was “open and active investigation” related to Griswold but declined to reveal any details. Griswold has not been charged with any crimes.

The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault, but Egbert identified himself in Friday’s court filing. Through an attorney, Egbert and his family declined to comment further.

“As you can imagine, this ordeal has been extraordinarily difficult for the Egbert family, as well as the other victims and families that have been impacted, so we ask that their privacy be respected,” attorneys Frank Salzano and Elizabeth Kramer said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit, Egbert was born with autism, did not speak his first words until he was 6 and today “has the mental capacity of a five-year old.” But he showed promise in the swimming pool at the U.S. Paralympic trials in June 2021, where he qualified for the Tokyo Games.

According to the complaint, that’s also where Griswold, a 25-year old swimmer who was born with cerebral palsy, befriended and began grooming Egbert. By time the national team got to Tokyo later that summer, Griswold was Egbert’s “de facto chaperone” according to the lawsuit, and “was always seated next to him on plane and bus rides, and was given prolonged unsupervised access to [Egbert] as the two shared a room in the Olympic Village.” The complaint alleges the “USOPC assigned Griswold to be a supervisor of” Egbert.

Griswold abused Egbert on multiple occasions, according to the complaint, and warned Egbert that he “would get in trouble” and “the police would come,” if he spoke out.

There was at least one witness to the abuse in Tokyo, according to the filing. A third, unnamed roommate became so enraged by what he saw, that athlete punched a wall and was later reprimanded by team officials for his outburst, the lawsuit states.

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Griswold, a two-time Paralympian from Freehold, N.J., won two gold medals and broke a world record in Tokyo, and the complaint alleges he’d become an influential figure in the U.S. Paralympic world. The lawsuit states that Griswold urged U.S. Olympic and Paralympic officials to extend an invite to Egbert to live and train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

The two athletes were again paired together as roommates, the lawsuit states, and the abuse continued.

“On at least one occasion, Griswold raped Plaintiff so viciously that Plaintiff lost bowel control. To this day Plaintiff continues to suffer from persistent and excruciating rectal pain, for which surgery and continuing medical attention is required,” the complaint states.

According to the filing, Egbert stopped showering and began writing stories “as a means of escape,” including the tale of “Spookley and the Hurricane,” about a group of friends who battled a powerful monster called “Hurricane Robert.” His parents reached out to USOPC officials when Egbert first revealed the abuse allegations, the complaint states, “but the USOPC failed to investigate the issue and summarily and dismissively told Plaintiff’s parents that Plaintiff was just fine, and that Griswold posed absolutely no risk to Plaintiff.”

The lawsuit alleges the USOPC and SafeSport protected Griswold, who “was a premier swimmer, and because Griswold’s family was deeply embedded with leaders throughout the U.S. Paralympic swimming community.”

The complaint offers no details about Griswold’s previous suspension but says the USOPC and SafeSport ignored red flags and previous complaints before placing Egbert in a dangerous situation with little to no oversight.

“Griswold’s physical, verbal, and sexual abuse occurred in large part because of the acts and omissions of USOPC and SafeSport,” the complaint states.

In August, the USOPC suspended Griswold from the training center and removed him as a member of the national team, and SafeSport issued its temporary suspension. One week earlier, according to social media posts, Griswold married his fiance in a Florida beach ceremony.

Egbert’s parents traveled to Colorado Springs that week and took their son home to Iowa. According to the complaint, the young swimmer “had to make the difficult decision to leave behind his lifelong dream.”

“Since his return home, [Egbert] has continuously told his parents ‘thank you for saving me from’ Griswold,” the lawsuit states, “however, to this day, [Egbert] remains fearful that Griswold ‘knows where they live’ and ‘is going to kill [him].’”

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