A former top San Jose State University athletic trainer accused of sexual misconduct toward nearly two dozen female athletes during his nearly 15-year tenure at the school was charged Thursday with civil rights violations connected to at least four of those women.
Scott Shaw, 54, allegedly touched four female athletes beneath their underwear, massaging their breasts and buttocks, under the guise of treatment and without their permission, the US Department of Justice announced Thursday. The agency said the incidents occurred between 2017 and 2020.
“Shaw, as a state employee for the California State University system, is further alleged to have acted under color of law when he sexually assaulted the victims,” the press release stated.
The criminal charges against Shaw only cover the abuse from the last five years, which an FBI spokesman told USA TODAY was due to the statute of limitations expiring in the cases of the other women.
Shaw will appear to face charges in US District Court in San Jose on a date to be determined. The counts carry a maximum of six years in prison if convicted.
“It’s a relief to finally be acknowledged,” Linzy Warkentin, a former San Jose State swimmer who alleged Shaw sexually abused her more than a decade ago, told USA TODAY. “For some girls, the fact that they were told (by the school) that this sexual assault was OK has affected their relationships for the past decade. Perhaps they can finally start to heal from that.”
The criminal case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s field office in San Francisco. It will be prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Michael Pitman of the Northern District of California and Special Litigation Counsel Fara Gold of the criminal section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
USA TODAY first reported about Shaw in April 2020 when it revealed that SJSU began quietly reinvestigating a decade-old claims that he had inappropriately touched female athletes who came to him seeking treatment for sports-related issues.
Read the full investigation:San Jose State reinvestigates claims athletic trainer inappropriately touched swimmers
The university had reviewed the swimmers’ allegations in 2010 but cleared Shaw of wrongdoing, saying that his treatments – which he’d described to the athletes as “pressure point” or “trigger point” therapy – constituted a scientific and accepted method of treatment for muscle injuries.
Shaw was never disciplined, arrested or charged, and he remained in his position as sports medicine director for the next 10 years, during which time he continued to treat and, according to the DOJ, sexually abuse female athletes.
San Jose State opened a second investigation into Shaw in December 2019, after San Jose State’s longtime swim coach, Sage Hopkins, circulated a nearly 300-page document among university, Mountain West and NCAA officials that detailed the allegations, the school’s response, and his claims of retaliation against him and his team for reporting and re-reporting them.
That investigation, which an outside investigator hired by the California State University system conducted, found Shaw responsible in February 2021 for sexual misconduct toward 10 athletes who participated in the investigation.
In September, an investigation by the DOJ’s civil rights division found San Jose State violated Title IX for more than a decade by mishandling the women’s complaints, and that additional athletes endured Shaw’s abuse as a result.
“This harassment was preventable,” the DOJ said at the time. “The heightened risk of sexual harassment within SJSU Athletics was known, but in neither its 2009-10 or 2020-21 investigations, nor in the intervening years when employees reminded SJSU of the ongoing threat, did SJSU take necessary steps to identify the scope of the problem or the extent of the victims, or reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from recurring.
“SJSU’s actions gave the Athletic Trainer unfettered access to student-athletes and led students to feel that further reports of sexual harassment would be futile.”
The DOJ also found that San Jose State instructed Shaw in January 2020 not to treat athletes, but Shaw ignored those instructions. Shaw “engaged in unwelcome sexual touching” only a month later, and was temporarily suspended with pay later that year, after that current athlete came forward. The university had failed to enforce other similar directives in the years since the initial investigation, the DOJ found.
The school entered into a settlement agreement with the DOJ that required it to change its athletic department and Title IX policies, hire additional staff, undergo monitoring by the DOJ, and pay $125,000 each to the women Shaw abused.
At least 13 of the athletes accepted the money. Other athletes continued to pursue a lawsuit against San Jose State and ultimately settled with the school for $5 million, including attorney fees.
Shaw came to San Jose State as an associate head athletic trainer in 2006. He served as the women’s swimming and diving team’s primary trainer at the time and continued working with the team after his promotion two years later to sports medicine director, a position he still holds.
Allegations against him first surfaced in December 2009, when swim coach Sage Hopkins alerted university administrators that 17 of his swimmers described alleged inappropriate treatment by Shaw. After meeting with his team, Hopkins typed and emailed summaries of the swimmers’ accounts to university administrators.
According to the notes, 14 said Shaw had put his hands under their bras, in many cases massaging their breasts and sometimes exposing their nipples. One said Shaw touched her breasts without going under her bra, while another said Shaw placed his hands within a half-inch of her nipple. Five said Shaw touched them beneath their underwear.
In addition to the swimmers, athletes from two other San Jose State women’s teams described similar encounters with Shaw from around the same time.
Kirsten Trammell, a junior swimmer at the time, told USA TODAY that Shaw performed trigger-point therapy when she saw him for an injured hip. He reached his hands beneath her underwear and pressed into her groin, she said.
Warkentin, a junior during the investigation, said Shaw treated her about three times a week for two years after she suffered an elbow injury as a freshman. During that time, she grew to like and trust him, she said.
But Warkentin said Shaw without explanation switched to using trigger-point treatments, which entailed him placing his fingers under his sports bra and pressing his breast.
“I remember laying there and being like, ‘Oh my god. Either he can see my nipple, because his hand is lifting up my bra, or he’s about to touch it,’” Warkentin said. “It was not comfortable.”
James Borchers, a physician and president of the US Council for Athlete’s Health who served as an expert witness in the investigation, determined Shaw’s treatments were “improper” and “questionable in the most conservative manner,” according to a copy of the preliminary findings report from November obtained by USA TODAY. Borchers added that they “raise a significant suspicion for inappropriate behavior.”
According to Borchers’ testimony, Shaw disregarded normal procedures by failing to explain, justify, properly document and obtain informed consent for his treatments, which he performed without offering a chaperone and without proper oversight, certification and training. Additionally, Borchers said massaging the breast and groin area is generally inappropriate absent clear medical circumstances necessitating such contact, and it is “not ethical to reach under clothing in a sensitive area in any situation.”
“In conclusion, there is no reasonable evidence or explanation for the actions of the athletic trainer described in this report,” Borchers wrote in a four-page analysis. “The treatments, behavior of the athletic trainer and consistent pattern associated with both as described by the student-athletes are at the very least unethical and disturbing.”