Beach investigation finds no wrongdoing by Fehr

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    Kristen ShiltonESPN NHL reporter

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      Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.

An NHL Player’s Association independently-commissioned investigation has found no “individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure” by its executive director Donald Fehr or others in ther handling of Kyle Beach’s allegations of sexual assault against Chicago Blackhawks then-video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010.

The 20-page review, shared by the NHLPA on its social media channels on Friday and created by Toronto-based law firm Cozen O’Connor, found there were breakdowns in miscommunication and misunderstanding in the process of the NHLPA’s handling of Beach’s allegations, but concluded there was no evidence of “any individual or systemic failure. “

“After a thorough examination of the contemporaneous record,” Cozen O’Connor’s said in its report, “the policies and practices in place at the [players’] union at the time, and the recollections of each of the parties to the contacts with the NHLPA or the SABH program, we cannot identify any individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure by either Fehr, NHLPA personnel, or the SABH program concerning the handling of Beach’s reports. “

Cozen O’Connor said its review into the union’s handling of Beach’s allegations “included the review of thousands of emails, relevant phone records, controlling documents and policies for the SABH [Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health] program and NHL Hotline, and interviews with eleven individuals.” Cozen O’Connor declined to interview Beach and another Blackhawks player who was adversely affected in the past.

— NHLPA (@NHLPA) April 15, 2022

Each of the NHL’s 32 team player representatives received a copy of the investigation earlier this week and that group subsequently voted to make the findings public.

The investigation into the union’s role and how it could have better supported Beach stems from his initial allegations he was sexually assaulted during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs by Aldrich. The 32-year-old Beach brought a negligence lawsuit against Chicago last summer, which was settled in December. Prior to that, the Blackhawks released in October 2021 the findings of its independent investigation into Beach’s allegations conducted by the law firm Jenner & Block.

Contained in that report were details concerning Fehr and his response to Beach’s allegations at the time they were levied. The NHLPA then ordered its own investigation into Fehr’s actions.

Cozen O’Connor stated the core disputes from the NHLPA’s perspective were “sharply conflicting accounts” provided by Fehr and player agent Bob Gurney surrounding a conversation they had about Beach’s allegations, and a conversation between Dr. Brian Shaw [a psychologist, and program administrator with the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program] and Beach.

According to the firm, Gurney said he called Fehr in late December 2010 after Beach told him Aldrich had been hired as a video coach by USA Hockey in connection with a tournament that was being held later that year. Gurney felt that Fehr, who had just been appointed NHLPA Executive director, would be interested in Beach’s concerns.

Gurney told Cozen O’Connor’s investigators he described Aldrich as either a “pedophile” or “sexual predator” but did not tell Fehr any details of what had allegedly happened between Beach and Aldrich.

Fehr denied to investigators having any recollection of the call, as he’s done since Beach’s allegations originally came to light.

“Fehr, an experienced lawyer, repeatedly made the point that if Gurney had either described Aldrich as a pedophile or sexual predator or requested him to contact USA Hockey, he would have remembered it,” Cozen O’Connor detailed in its report. “Fehr insists that if the incident had been reported to him, he would not have taken — or agreed not to take — any further actions without being given more details about the alleged incident, including whether Beach reported the incident — or was ready to report it. “

An “exhaustive review of the entirety of Fehr’s emails during the same time period” did not show any reference to a conversation with Gurney either. This was followed by a review of Fehr’s emails over the next ten years, which found no connection to Gurney. The report also found that Fehr never mentioned Gurney or Beach to anyone who interacted with him daily.

One incident in the Jenner & Block report that included Fehr related to another conversation between him and player agent Joe Resnick. In an email contained within that investigation and dated April 18, 2011, Resnick told Fehr he knew the executive director had been made aware of “an incident” that involved Beach.

In the Cozen O’Connor interview, Resnick “did not recall receiving any response to his email, and none was found in our review of Fehr’s emails.” Resnick did not recall any follow up conversation with Fehr.

“Fehr acknowledged to us — as he did in the Jenner Report — receiving the email but had no recollection of it or following up with Resnick regarding the matter,” the report said. “Likewise, Gurney also does not recall any discussions with Fehr concerning Aldrich outside of his December 2010 call described in the Jenner Report. “

As for the conversation between Dr. Shaw and Beach regarding whether USA Hockey was alerted to allegations surrounding Aldrich’s past actions, Cozen O’Connor found it was an issue of miscommunication.

“All parties involved managed to walk away from these interactions under some misapprehension,” the report stated. “Gurney & Beach believed that someone…had taken responsibility for contacting USA Hockey. Dr. Shaw believed that other people, either the union, or Beach’s agent would address Beach’s concerns and that he would keep what Beach had shared confidential. Resnick believed that he was sharing a concern regarding a coach who was inappropriate, bullying, and inappropriate but not a sexual abuser. “

Cozen O’Connor concluded that given Fehr’s background as a lawyer, he would have known to act upon serious allegations had they been communicated to him.

“Our conclusion,” the report continued, “is further supported by the absence of any evidence that Fehr either memorialized the conversation or discussed it with anyone else affiliated with the NHLPA, including his brother, Steven, who is outside counsel to the NHLPA. This is in direct contradiction to Fehr’s documented practice, which routinely and quickly assigns others to follow-up on matters of less importance. “

Beach had been openly critical of Fehr’s inaction since revealing himself as the case’s John Doe in an interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead last October.

“I reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA, who I was put in contact with after,” Beach told Westhead. “I believe Don Fehr was contacted by two people. He would turn his back on the player when his only job is to protect them. I don’t understand how that could be your leader. I don’t understand how he can be in control. If that’s what he will do when a player comes up to you and tells him something, whether it’s abuse or drugs, you’re supposed have the players’ backs, and they certainly didn’t have my. “

On October 28, 2021, Fehr released his own statement regarding Beach’s ordeal.

“Kyle Beach has been through a horrific experience and has shown true courage in telling his story,” Fehr said in October. “There is no doubt that he was not supported by the system in his time of need. We are part of that system. In a media interview, Mr. Beach stated in detail that he had told someone at NHLPA about what happened to him several months later. He is referring [Dr. Brian Shaw, a psychologist, and program administrator]to one of the NHL/NHLPA program doctors. Although the program is confidential between the players and the doctors it should have led to further action from our side due to the serious nature of the incident. It was a serious failure that it didn’t. I am deeply sorry and will make changes to prevent it from happening again. “

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