Lawsuit: Huntington CC, Track Programs Allowed Doping, Abuse

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Two former Huntington (Ind.) 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.

As reported by CBS affiliate WANE in Fort Wane, lawyers for the runners 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 and additional unnamed administrators as defendants. The runners are seeking damages from all involved.

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. One of the runners who filed the lawsuit joined the Huntington program in 2019 while the other joined in 2020.

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 part of 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, WANE reported.

In the lawsuit, the runners claim the Johnsons instilled the doping program in which 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 biweekly basis and told to sign non-disclosure agreements. The other runner became a part of a similar program the next year, according to accusations in the lawsuit, which adds that Nicholas Johnson would also rub unknown substances on the runners.

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 USA Gymnastics team doctor convicted of sexually abusing 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 that Nicholas Johnson raped one runner multiple times.

As with the drug use, the runners claim Hines and Lauren Johnson knew of the abuse but did nothing.

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 or should have been 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 cited by WANE.

Ultimately, Nicholas Johnson was convicted of identity deception, served 30 days in jail and two years of home detention, and 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, as the new head coach. 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 comaradery.

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.

The Huntington Police Department confirmed that a report was made based on one runner's oral and written statements , but a copy of the report was not made available to WANE this week.

Earlier this week, multiple lawyers made appearances in federal court on behalf of the runners, according to court records and documents cited by WANE.. The court also issued summons’ to the defendants listed in the lawsuit.

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