FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Two former Huntington University cross country and track runners claim in a federal lawsuit they were doped, sexually assaulted and raped by a coach – and that school officials and other coaches allowed the abuse.
Lawyers for the runners, who WANE TV is not identifying, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Northern Indiana late last week.
The lawsuit names former coach Nicholas Johnson and his wife, current coach Lauren Johnson, as well as assistant coach Curtis Hines, the university, the university’s board of trustees as well as unnamed administrators as defendants.
When reached for comment, Huntington officials released the following statement:
“University leadership has been made aware that a civil suit was filed that names the University, as well as individuals formerly and currently associated with the University. Huntington University is doing its due diligence but cannot comment further at this time.”
In the suit, the runners claim the Johnsons – Nicholas Johnson was head coach while his wife was assistant coach beginning in 2018 – used an illegal performance enhancing doping program the coaching duo learned years earlier while running in the Pacific Northwest.
Lauren Johnson, who ran for Huntington University before joining the Oregon Track Club, qualified for the United States World Championships Team in 2015 and competed in the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing.
According to the lawsuit, Nicholas Johnson was a part a running program under the leadership of disgraced distance runner Alberto Salazar, who was banned for four years by the USDA for doping in 2019.
One of the runners who filed the lawsuit joined the Huntington program in 2019 while the other joined in 2020.
In the lawsuit, the runners claim the Johnsons instilled the doping program where some of the team members were invited to partake in a “study” or “experiment” endorsed by a shoe brand and Huntington University’s athletic director.
In 2019, one of the runners was one of a select few who would receive injections of an unknown substance on a bi-weekly basis and told to sign non-disclosure agreements. The other runner became a part of a similar program the next year, according to accusation sin the lawsuit.
Nicholas Johnson would also rub unknown substances on the runners, the lawsuit claims.
Both Hines and Lauren Johnson knew about the doping program and did nothing to stop distribution of the drugs, the lawsuit said.
The runners also claim Nicholas Johnson sexually assaulted them in the same vein as Larry Nassar, the disgraced Michigan State University and United States women’s national gymnastics team doctor convicted of sexually battering and raping athletes over the course of nearly two decades.
In the suit, the runners claim Nicholas Johnson would perform massages or “treatments” on them and sexually assault them. The lawsuit also claims the lawsuit that Nicholas Johnson raped the runner multiple times.
The runners claim Hines and Lauren Johnson knew of the abuse but did nothing, according to the lawsuit.
The runners also claim in the lawsuit they were “psychological tortured” with verbal abuse from Nicholas Johnson, and that he sexually battered them in front of members of Huntington University.
The lawsuit claims university officials were aware of the abuse and did nothing to protect the runners.
In 2020, Nicholas Johnson was charged with two counts of child seduction, kidnapping and identity deception. In that case, he was accused of performing inappropriate medical procedures on a person between the ages of 16 and 18 years old, according to Huntington Superior Court documents.
Ultimately, Nicholas Johnson was convicted of identity deception and served 30 days in jail and two years of home detention. He was terminated as the coach of Huntington University.
Still, the runners claim in the lawsuit the university allowed Nicholas Johnson to remain heavily involved in the cross country program, even forcing members to write positive statements about the former coach “and what Mr. Johnson means to them.”
The university then hired Lauren Johnson, who was still living with Nicholas Johnson. In the lawsuit, the former team members claim the university encouraged other team members to visit Nicholas Johnson at his home for running advice and comradery.
The runners also claim in the lawsuit Nicholas Johnson continues to coach and give pointers to juvenile runners from all over northeast Indiana at his home.
According to the lawsuit, one runner shared the story of abuse – both orally and in writing – with the Huntington Police Department. Police confirmed that a report was made, but a copy of the report was not available Tuesday.
Earlier this week, multiple lawyers made appearances in federal court on behalf of the runners, according to court records and documents. The court also issued summons’ to the defendants listed in the lawsuit.
The runners are seeking damages from all involved.
FOX59 reached out to Huntington University for a statement and this is what the university had to say:
“Huntington University has placed Lauren Johnson and Curtis Hines on administrative leave effective immediately and until further notice pending investigation. Austin Roark, head coach of HU’s track and field team, will assume a dual role and lead the cross country team as well during this time.
The University has engaged in communication with key stakeholders to begin the necessary work required to ensure the ongoing care of our students..
The University has and continues to provide a variety of opportunities and directed avenues for students who were impacted to be heard, obtain counseling services, and make Title IX inquiries. We remain committed to providing a workplace and educational environment, as well as other benefits, programs, and activities, that are free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.”