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NHLPA investigation: Fehr not at fault in Beach situation

NHLPA investigation: Fehr not at fault in Beach situation

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: Donald Fehr of the NHLPA walks the red carpet prior to the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Hockey Hall Of Fame & Museum on November 14, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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An independent investigation commissioned by the NHL Players’ Association found that executive director Don Fehr and others were not responsible for wrongdoing when they failed to act on a report that a Chicago Blackhawks player had been sexually assaulted by a staff member in 2010.

A law firm hired to look into Fehr and the union’s actions in 2010 and 2011 concluded miscommunication and misunderstanding were behind the lack of action after Kyle Beach reported being assaulted by video coach Brad Aldrich.

“Ultimately, the failure to act on Beach’s reports stems from a failure of communication,” the firm Cozen O’Connor wrote in a 20-page report released by the NHLPA on Friday. “We cannot identify any individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure by either Fehr, NHLPA personnel, or the (NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program) concerning the handling of Beach’s reports.”

The NHLPA executive board was shown the report last week. Players voted in favor of making it public.

The union launched the investigation in November after an independent probe into the Blackhawks’ mishandling of the allegations raised questions about what Fehr and others knew at the time and why they did not act. Aldrich told investigators then that the encounter was consensual, but the scandal rocked the Blackhawks and led to sweeping changes in the front office and ripple effects across the NHL.

The latest investigation included reviews of about 20,000 emails and phone records from 2010 and 2011 and included interviews of 11 witnesses, including Dr. Brian Shaw from the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Beach and an unidentified player who reported having inappropriate conversations with Aldrich both declined to be interviewed.

The firm acknowledged the difficulty of reconstructing events from 11 years ago, and said the findings were based on “understandably imperfect and incomplete recollections of a few individuals, uncorroborated by documentary evidence.” The report also acknowledged the likelihood of witness recollections being “unavoidably influenced” by a separate report that looked into the team’s role.

Agent Ross Gurney told investigators he was sure he described Aldrich as a “pedophile” or “sexual predator” in a conversation with Fehr to warn him about Aldrich’s behavior after the coach was hired by USA Hockey to work at a tournament.

Fehr said he would have recalled that if it happened. He repeatedly told investigators he had no recollection of being notified of the incident when it happened. Investigators also determined Fehr’s few comments regarding about the allegations “were consistent with his claim.”

Shaw told investigators he believed his conversation with Beach was “privileged communication between a prospective patient and therapist” and that he was unable to reveal the contents without the player’s consent, which he claimed to have not received.

The firm said it provided the union’s general counsel with a series of recommendations for additional measures that could be put in place to handle similar situations better in the future. The NHLPA did not immediately respond to a message inquiring about those recommendations, which were not listed in the report.