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Harvard diving coach placed on leave amid sexual misconduct allegations

Chris Heaton is accused in a lawsuit of soliciting nude photos from female athletes while working in Indiana three years ago.
Image: Harvard University Campus
Harvard says it was unaware of any sexual misconduct allegations against Chris Heaton before hiring him as diving coach in August.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Harvard University has placed its head diving coach on leave after a federal lawsuit accused him of sexual misconduct while working for an Indiana diving camp.

The class-action lawsuit alleges that Chris Heaton, 31, solicited nude photographs from young female athletes at an Indiana diving school. Heaton, not one of the defendants of the suit, allegedly sent photos of his penis to female athletes while at the Ripfest Diving Camp in Indiana in 2015.

Fifty women are listed as defendants, all but one are listed as Jane Does.

“Harvard University was unaware of any allegations of sexual misconduct when Mr. Heaton was hired as the Head Coach for Diving in August 2018,” Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane said in a statement. “Upon learning of these allegations from media reports, Harvard immediately placed Mr. Heaton on leave, pending a review of these allegations by Harvard University.”

Heaton did not respond to NBC’s request for comment.

The suit names USA Diving, a national governing body of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), and its state-level administrative body the Indiana Diving Association in failing to protect athletes abused at the Indiana Diving Academy (Ripfest). Ripfest owner John Wingfield, and former coach Johel Ramirez Suarez are also defendants.

Suarez was arrested in November of 2017 after three women accused him of rubbing their vaginal areas when he was supposed to help them stretch at diving camps operated by Ripfest, the Indianapolis Star reported. Court records show Suarez pleaded guilty to three counts of battery this past September and was sentenced to about a year and half in jail.

The suit claims that Wingfield, a USA Diving sanctioned coach, ignored young athlete’s complaints about the behavior from Suarez and Heaton. Neither Ripfest nor Wingfield responded to NBC’s request for comment.

The allegations against USA Diving for failing to act on sexual misconduct within its organization come on the heels of sexual abuse conducted by Larry Nassar during his time at USA Gymnastics — a separate National Governing Body of the USOC.

Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison in February after being accused of molestation by 265 girls and women. The entire board of USA Gymnastics resigned shortly before Nassar’s sentencing after the U.S. Olympic Committee threatened to decertify the organization as a national governing body.

Neither USA Diving nor the U.S. Olympic Committee responded to NBC’s request for comment on the allegations against Heaton and Ripfest.