Paralympic gold medalist swimmer Robert Griswold “maliciously targeted,” groomed and sexually abused a younger, intellectually disabled teammate, a civil lawsuit filed on Friday in Colorado alleges.
He allegedly abused now-19-year-old Parker Egbert, who has suffered from developmental delay and intellectual disability his entire life making him “significantly more vulnerable to abuse”, during the Tokyo Paralympic Games and at the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center (OPTC) located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“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 lawsuit says.
Directly because of Griswold’s “vicious acts” and “the repeated failures of USOPC (the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee) and SafeSport to uphold their duties,” the lawsuit says that Egbert has “suffered severe physical injuries, pain and suffering, and extreme mental and emotional distress, most of which is likely to endure for the rest of his life.”
Griswold had not responded to request for comment at the time of publication.
When contacted, Egbert’s lawyers said they would speak with their client before making a statement.
The lawsuit also alleges that the USOPC and SafeSport – an independent non-profit organization committed to ending abuse and harassment against athletes – failed to “warn, supervise and/or protect Plaintiff,” either intentionally or negligently failing to uphold their respective duties.
“The allegations brought forth by the complaint filed today are extremely concerning and we take them very seriously,” the USOPC 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.”
SafeSport and USA Swimming have not responded to request for comment at the time of publication.
Griswold was issued with a temporary suspension by the U.S. Center for SafeSport on August 23 2022 due to “allegations of misconduct” and placed on a database that is designed for abuse prevention and education in sports.
The Colorado Springs Police Department had not responded to request for comment at the time of publication.
Egbert was born with autism, did not speak until he was six, and “currently has the mental capacity of a five-year old,” the lawsuit says.
Swimming became a form of “playtime, therapy time,” his mother says in the lawsuit, and he found success in the pool, competing in three different events at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games held in August and September 2021.
According to the lawsuit, at the Paralympic trials in June 2021, Griswold “made a concerted effort to ‘befriend’ [Egbert], constantly referring to [Egbert] as his ‘little buddy.’”
During the Games, Griswold ensured that Egbert was always “seated next to him on plane and bus rides and was given prolonged unsupervised access” to him since they shared a room in the Olympic Village, and “the grooming intensified,” the lawsuit states.
“The USOPC observed Griswold engaging in this conduct and allowed it to continue,” the lawsuit adds.
Griswold, who was born with cerebral palsy, won two gold medals at Tokyo 2020.
Another athlete, who was not identified in the lawsuit, allegedly witnessed the abuse Egbert suffered from Griswold, according to the lawsuit, and he became so angry that he punched the wall of the room where the three athletes were staying.
In December that year, Egbert won three gold medals at the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championship and was invited to live and train at the OPTC in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Egbert and Griswold became roommates there, allowing the abuse to continue and intensify, the lawsuit says.
Egbert “refused to take showers which was where Griswold would rape and sexually abuse” him, the lawsuit says, and he began writing stories as a means of escape including one which he titled ‘Spookley and the Hurricane.’
The story, according to the lawsuit, was about a group of friends who were “brave” in defeating “a powerful hurricane called Hurricane Robert,” which Egbert referred to as a “monster.”
After his parents asked Egbert about this story, he revealed Griswold’s abuse to them but when they expressed their concerns, “USOPC declined to respond to the issue,” the lawsuit says.
Due to the “acts and omissions” of Griswold, USOPC and SafeSport, the lawsuit says, Egbert has “had to make the difficult decision to leave behind his lifelong dream,” of being a Paralympic swimmer.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that “Griswold used his status in the Olympic and Paralympic Swimming community to carry out a systematic pattern of abuse, whereby he would seek out and groom vulnerable athletes, specifically minor and disabled Paralympic athletes living and training at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center located in Colorado.”
USOPC and SafeSport had knowledge of “credible allegations” of abuse against Griswold, the lawsuit says, “yet conspired to cover-up such allegations” because of his success as a Paralympic swimmer.