© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Massage Therapist Who Worked With KU Women’s Sports Teams Faces More Sexual Assault Charges

A banner at the University of Kansas.
Nomin Ujiyediin
Kansas News Service file photo
A banner at the University of Kansas.

A man who provided massages for female athletes at University of Kansas for more than four years was charged this month with six more counts of sexually assaulting four people between 2016 and 2019.

Lawrence massage therapist Shawn O’Brien, 49, was charged in February with indecent liberties with a 9-year-old. In early March, when the charges were reported in the media, KU said it canceled its contracts with O’Brien.

On March 24, KU said six female student-athletes had told investigators there was “unwarranted touching during massages.” The school also said at that time that O’Brien had provided free massages for students on campus during KU Alumni Association-sponsored finals dinners starting in 2011, with the last time being fall 2019. O’Brien also handed out gift cards that the school said “may have led to off-campus massages” at his business, Medissage-Kamehameha, LLC, in Lawrence.

The amended charges, which Douglas County Deputy District Attorney David Melton filed July 14, do not specify whether the individuals are men or women, or whether they are current or former KU students or student-athletes.

KU didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to a request for information. The document said the alleged sexual assaults happened in Douglas County. It does not say whether they happened on or off campus. However, the district attorney's office confirmed that four of the counts are associated with offense report numbers provided by the KU Public Safety Office — cases that were filed March 20, according to records on CityProtect.

The amended charges are Class A sexual battery misdemeanors for touching the individuals “unlawfully, and without consent … with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of the defendant or another.”

The six new counts involve four people, all of whom were between the ages of 19 and 23 when the alleged assaults occurred. Two allegations were a week apart in March 2016; one spans Sept. 1 through Oct. 31, 2018; another two were on the same day — Sept. 30, 2019 — and the last was on Oct. 14, 2019, allegedly touching one of the same individuals in the Sept. 30 incident.

O’Brien’s attorney, Philip Sedgwick, said Wednesday he had no comment about the new charges, for which a new warrant had not yet been issued. O’Brien is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Sept. 1. If convicted, he could face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 for each count.

KU contracts with O’Brien, obtained earlier this year through a public records request, say he provided massage therapy for the women’s basketball team from January through June 2015; for women’s tennis from July 2015 to June 2016; for the softball team from April to June 2017 and again from late December 2017 through June 2018; and for the women’s soccer team from July 2017 through June 2019.

The records request did not include contracts for beyond June 30, 2019, for any of those four sports. KU said on March 5 that O’Brien’s contract “has been terminated,” but didn’t specify on what date.

KU said in late March that an athletic trainer knew of “unwarranted and unwanted touching” but hadn’t appropriately reported it. The school also said it filed Clery Act reports — the federal law requires schools to track and report campus-related crimes — for the allegations it had found, and that an internal investigation was still ongoing.

KU didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to a request for an update on the internal investigation.

KU’s athletic department has dealt with a host of issues lately. The NCAA charged the basketball program with five of the most serious rules violations related to recruiting. Head coach Bill Self has disputed those charges. The school has also denied charges of less serious rules violations for the football program. Plus, the athletics department recently settled a lawsuit with former football coach David Beaty over allegations that he was fired to avoid a payout.

Other universities have faced scandals regarding medical staff and athletes, notablyMichigan State, where a doctor who also worked for USA Gymnastics admitted sexually assaulting female patients for decades, and Ohio State, where a physician sexually abusedmale student-athletes.

Erica Hunzinger is the news editor for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @ehunzinger.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3

Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri.