Alen Hadzic
Alen Hadzic at the Challenge SNCF Réseau 2016. (Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-3.0)

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

Alen Hadzic — the Montclair High School graduate and alternate Olympic fencer accused of sexual misconduct by three women — could compete as soon as Friday if another fencer is hurt or unavailable.

But investigators continue to interview people about the allegations, Jack Wiener, an attorney representing one of the women, told Montclair Local. Wiener has also filed a complaint over the last few days with the International Fencing Federation, seeking to block Hadzic’s participation in the Olympics. 

On July 22, an arbitrator turned down Hadzic’s appeal to remove the restrictions in a “safety plan” USA Fencing put in place, meant to limit his contact with other fencers and players. He’s barred from staying in the Olympic Village, and was required to fly to Tokyo two days after his teammates.

His teammates said in a letter submitted as part of that hearing and obtained by Montclair Local that they “vehemently oppose” transferring Hadzic to the Olympic Village. 

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“We are all aware of the accusations of sexual assault raised against Alen. Many of us have been bystanders and/or witnesses to his conduct, over many years,” the teammates wrote.

They stressed Hadzic was not being restricted from competing under the safety plan.

Their letter continues: “We, the athletes, will feel extremely unsafe and uncomfortable should Alen be transferred to live in the Olympic Village. Hundreds of other US athletes, coaches and staff, not to mention the thousands of international Olympic stakeholders staying in the village, will be unknowingly also put at risk due to Alen’s presence.”

The letter, as provided to Montclair Local, is signed “2021 US Olympic Fencing Team” but does not include the names of signees. Buzzfeed reported the entire roster of Team USA fencers had signed it.

Hadzic has previously referred Montclair Local to an attorney and declined other comment. He told USA Today last week allegations against him were “untruths.” One of Hadzic’s attorneys, Michael Palma, told The New York Times his client had never been charged with rape or with any criminal complaint involving sexual impropriety.

Montclair Local first reported Hadzic was suspended during a U.S. Center for SafeSport investigation into alleged misconduct in June; the suspension was later lifted by an arbitrator, though an investigation into the allegations is ongoing. 

The USA Today report, published a day before Hadzic’s appeal of the restrictions was heard, was the first to provide further details of the allegations. It cited a complaint filed with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and under investigation by SafeSport in which the three women told investigators Hadzic committed sexual misconduct against them between 2013 and 2015.

Hadzic confirmed to USA Today one of the allegations was made in 2013, when both he and the woman were attending Columbia University and competing as fencers there. The Times quoted Palma as saying Hadzic was suspended from Columbia in 2013-14 for a Title IX investigation involving sexual consent. He called the proceeding a “kangaroo court” and said his client wasn’t allowed to call witnesses or provide character statements.

The Times reported one woman said Hadzic had grabbed her buttocks and pushed her against a dresser after she went to his apartment with a female friend whom she didn’t want to leave alone.

Wiener declined to say which specific claims his client made.

The women and their lawyers were not allowed to attend the arbitration that resulted in Hadzic’s suspension being lifted, Wiener said. The SafeSport investigator who spoke to the women was also not present at the hearing, he said. And the complainants were also not allowed to see the written decision after the arbitration, Wiener said.

Palma, to the Times, also criticized the Safesport system, saying his client had been suspended without notice — and the case made its way to social media before he had an opportunity to overturn the suspension.

The claimants are wary of repercussions for speaking on the record, Wiener said. Filing claims with SafeSport or as part of a Title IX investigation guarantees anonymity. If the women were to pursue further legal action within the traditional judicial system, their identities would become public, he said.

While an arbitrator upheld USA Fencing’s decision to maintain restrictions on Hadzic, he was allowed to move to a hotel closer to the training center.

“If one of the fencers on the U.S. epee team twists an ankle or gets COVID, he is next in line to fence for the U.S.,” Wiener said. “If the team were to win a medal, Alen Hadzic would step up on the podium. The image of him doing that, representing American values, is a troubling one.”

SafeSport rules say that if the organization uncovers new information during its ongoing investigation that is sufficient to suspend him again, it can. 

According to Wiener, SafeSport has continued to interview people after the July 22 arbitration, including one of the women. The woman had submitted a written statement but had not yet spoken with the investigator, Wiener said.

He said a former fencer has told investigators as recently as Monday about another incident involving Hadzic and sexual impropriety. However, a person with direct knowledge of that report to investigators said it only reflected a secondhand account, made by someone who’d heard about but not been present for the incident.

“SafeSport can suspend an athlete … in the most egregious cases,” he said.

When the suspension against Hadzic was lifted, on June 30, a spokesman for SafeSport stressed to Montclair Local it wasn’t an indication of what conclusion the investigation might reach.

The USA Today report cited documents quoting Judge Sherrie L. Krauser, who presided over the hearing, saying the suspension was inappropriate because there hadn’t been any new allegation over the last two years, and the continuing probation supervision of USA Fencing and regulation of members by the U.S. Olympic teams would guarantee the safety and well-being of others. But the judge upheld a directive prohibiting Hadzic from contacting the three women and deferred a final ruling until a full hearing.

Palma told the Times USA Fencing had known about the allegations against his client for years, but hadn’t placed any restrictions on him until he made the Olympic team.

Hadzic has previously referred Montclair Local to another of his attorneys, Russel Prince, who has not responded to text messages sent since July 22. 

“Colleagues have been telling me, ‘You’re out of time,’” Wiener said. “But I don’t believe that. I’m trusting that, with the massive public reaction that we have seen and continue to see across the world, SafeSport will take action again.”

The case has captured broad attention on social media. 

A tweet from comic, podcaster and adult model Meredith Jacqueline with a screenshot of a Buzzfeed News notification about the safety plan and the caption “Incredibly cool attitude about sexual assault” had more than 61,000 likes and 8,300 retweets as of Tuesday. 

Many other tweets contrasted the case with those of other Olympic athletes who have been quickly suspended — American track athlete Sha’Carri Richardson for marijuana use and Algerian judo athlete Fethi Nourine for refusing to fight an Israeli athlete.

Human rights attorney Qasim Rashid wrote, in a tweet liked more than 23,000 times and retweeted nearly 8,900 times as of Tuesday: “‘Rules are rules’ — which is why Sha’Carri Richardson is suspended from the Olympic Team for 1 pot violation, but Alen Hadzic gets to compete despite his suspension for investigations into his repeated sexual assault. ‘Rules’ seem magically absent for some.”

This story has been updated regarding a reference to an allegation attorney Jack Wiener said was presented to investigators this week, to omit the specific description of that allegation. A person with direct knowledge of a report made to investigators told Montclair Local that report only included a secondhand account.

This story has been further updated to remove descriptions of some of the allegations described by Wiener that did not directly involve his client. Wiener told Montclair News said his client is aware of those allegations because of her contact with the other accusers, but he had not seen documentation of those allegations.