UK hires public relations firm to respond to sex abuse lawsuit involving swim coach

The University of Kentucky has hired a public relations firm that offers “crisis communications” to respond to a lawsuit accusing it of “complicity and deliberate indifference” to sexual abuse allegedly committed by former head swim coach Lars Jorgensen.

C2 Strategic Communications, based in Louisville, was retained by the law firm of Sturgill, Turner, Barker and Moloney, which will represent UK in the litigation, the school’s executive vice president, Eric Monday, told the Herald-Leader this week in response to a Herald-Leader Open Records Act request.

Monday said UK currently has no contract with the law firm for this particular case. The university has not paid any fees yet because the lawsuit is less than a month old, he said.

Sturgill, Turner has experience dealing with Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, and it has represented UK in the past, he said.

UK spokeswoman Kristi Willett declined to say exactly what kinds of public relations services C2 will provide related to the Jorgensen lawsuit.

“C2 Strategic Communications is working with the university in a consultation role for communications,” Willett said in a brief written statement.

C2 founder and chief executive officer Chad Carlton referred questions about his firm’s assignment to UK. Carlton is a former Lexington Herald-Leader reporter who later worked as spokesman for Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

On its website, C2 gives examples of its past crisis communications work that includes crafting a positive media message for Treyton Oak Towers, a high-rise Louisville nursing home where residents were sickened and killed as COVID-19 swept through in 2020. One employee was placed on house arrest for refusing to self-quarantine after she tested positive for the virus.

“C2 Strategic worked closely with the executive team and staff to secure media interviews and place stories that showcased the ‘heroes who work and live’ at Treyton Oak Towers,” the firm says on its website. “Additionally, C2 created a series of video interviews with members of the Treyton Oak team to highlight their resiliency, dedication and care for residents.”

C2 says it also did work during the pandemic for Hillcreek Rehabilitation and Care, a Louisville nursing home later shut down by the federal government after inspectors uncovered many serious problems, including a rodent infestation, filthy living conditions and a general lack of care for the elderly and ailing residents.

In a federal lawsuit filed April 12, two former UK swimmers say Jorgensen created a “toxic, sexually hostile environment” inside UK’s swim program by harassing, groping and raping them and a third swimmer on multiple occasions over a period of years.

The suit names UK and Jorgensen as defendants, as well as UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and former head swim coach Gary Conelly, who initially hired Jorgensen as his associate swim coach.

According to the suit, several different people warned UK about Jorgensen’s predatory behavior toward young woman in his swim programs, starting the day after UK hired him in 2012, but UK did not adequately investigate the claims.

Jorgensen quit UK last summer following concerns over NCAA training violations. He has denied the sexual abuse allegations contained in the lawsuit. Through his attorney, Jorgensen said he and his two accusers — who later became assistant swim coaches at UK — had consensual dating relationships.

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