Independent report into NHLPA’s Kyle Beach investigation finds no wrongdoing by union

By Sportsnet staff

An independent report into the NHLPA’s conduct surrounding the Kyle Beach investigation did not find “individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure,” the union stated Friday.

The NHLPA’s executive board voted Thursday to release the findings of the independent report into the association’s conduct surrounding the Kyle Beach investigation.

The 20-page report, prepared by Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor, was made available Friday on and Twitter, and can be read in its entirety here

Warning: The following content may be distressing for some readers.

For the report, the firm says it interviewed 11 people, reviewed thousands of emails and “relevant” phone records, but faced a challenge in the amount of time that had passed (more than 10 years), a lack of a useful document trail and the inability to interview Beach or co-accuser Black Ace 1 (both refused on the advice of their lawyers to participate).

In the report’s executive summary, Cozen O’Connor wrote, “In sum, after a thorough examination of the contemporaneous record, the policies and practices in place at the union at the time, and the recollections of each of the parties to the contacts with the NHLPA or the (Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health) program, we cannot identify any individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure by either (executive director Donald) Fehr, NHLPA personnel, or the SABH program concerning the handling of Beach’s reports. Beach’s warnings about (Brad) Aldrich were not addressed on account of miscommunication and misunderstanding, rather than any individual or systemic failure.”

RELATED: Gary Bettman apologizes to Kyle Beach, defends NHL in wake of sexual assault allegations

The report stated that it has created a list of recommended steps for the NHLPA to take to avoid a similar event from occurring in the future, but the union is choosing not to release that list.

Instead, the report focused on three areas:

1. How the contacts with NHLPA representatives concerning Aldrich in late 2010 and early 2011 were handled within the NHLPA.

2. Whether any additional reporting concerning Aldrich or Beach was made to NHLPA representatives beyond that identified in the report by Chicago law firm Jenner & Block.

3. Recommendations the union can implement to ensure that any future reports of similar allegations are handled effectively.

A failure of communication

The law firm read more than 20,000 emails from Fehr’s account as well as from other, unidentified members of the NHLPA. It also reviewed Fehr’s cell phone records.

The crux of the dispute comes down to the accounts of Beach’s former agent, Ross Gurney, who said he called Fehr in December 2010 to apprise him of Beach’s allegations when Beach learned Aldrich had taken a job with USA Hockey. Gurney said he used either the words “pedophile” or “sexual predator” in reference to Aldrich. Fehr told Cozen O’Connor that he had no recollection of the call.

An examination by the law firm of Fehr’s emails did not reveal any mention of the phone conversation between Gurney and Fehr, nor of the Beach incident until January 2021, when Beach’s lawyer requested documents from the NHLPA.

An email sent by Joe Resnick, the agent for Black Ace 1, sent in April 2011 referenced the Gurney call but did not go into great detail about it. Resnick said he did not receive a response to the email and the law firm’s investigation of the emails backed that up. Fehr told the law firm he remembered getting the email but did not remember following up with it.

An examination by Cozen O’Connor of phone records showed a 14-minute conversation between Fehr and Resnick “within hours” of the email being sent, but neither Resnick nor Fehr count recall the subject matter of the call.

In its conclusion, Cozen O’Connor stated: “Ultimately, the failure to act on Beach’s reports stems from a failure of communication. All parties involved managed to walk away from these interactions under some misapprehension: Gurney and Beach walked away from their respective conversations believing that someone, possibly Fehr or another person at the NHLPA, or Dr. Shaw from the SABH program, had agreed to take responsibility for contacting USA Hockey; Dr. Shaw thought that others, either the union or Beach’s agent, would address Beach’s concerns about USA Hockey and that he was bound to keep what Beach had told him confidential; Resnick believed he was sharing a concern about a coach who was odd, bullying, and inappropriate, but not a sexual abuser. Fehr’s and Gurney’s differing accounts of the call are difficult to reconcile because they are fundamentally incompatible. However, given Fehr’s years of experience and training as a lawyer, his failure to recall the conversation or take any further action strongly suggest that, at a minimum, he did not leave the call with the understanding that he had agreed either personally or on behalf of the NHLPA to contact USA Hockey. Our conclusion 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 departure is completely at odds with Fehr’s documented practice of routinely and promptly tasking others to follow up on matters of much less significance.”

Team player representatives were provided with the report on April 8 and, on Monday, held a board meeting during which investigators discussed their findings, according to an NHLPA spokesman.

Fehr contacted twice about allegations

The vote came six months after Fehr recommended the union hire outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation into how it handled Beach’s sexual assault allegations. The NHLPA subsequently voted in favour of commissioning the probe.

Beach said he was sexually assaulted, while he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs by Brad Aldrich, a former team video coach. The organization hired Jenner & Block to investigate the allegations. Their bombshell report was released in October 2021, spurring a public reckoning over how Beach’s case was handled, as well as hockey culture itself and the systems that too often fail survivors of assault.

The allegations made by Beach were not heard in a court of law, and the negligence lawsuit he later filed against the team for how it handled his case was settled in December after mediation.

According to the original report, Fehr was contacted twice about allegations connected to Aldrich, including by a Beach confidant. Fehr told investigators he couldn’t recall either conversation, but did not deny that they had occurred.

Beach addressed this and criticized Fehr in an interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead in November, saying he had “reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA” and that he believed two people talked to Fehr. Beach went on to question how he could continue to be the players association’s executive director.

“For him to turn his back on the players when his one job is to protect the players at all costs, I don’t know how that can be your leader,” Beach said. “I don’t know how he can be in charge. If that’s what he’s going to do when a player comes to you and tells you something, whether it be abuse, whether it be drugs, whether it be anything, you’re supposed to have the players’ backs and they definitely didn’t have mine.”

In response to the interview, Fehr released a statement commending Beach for having “shown true courage in telling his story,” while acknowledging that the association should have done more to protect him.

“There is no doubt that the system failed to support him in his time of need, and we are part of that system,” Fehr said. “In his media interview, Mr. Beach stated that several months after the incident he told someone at the NHLPA the details of what happened to him. He is referring to one of the program doctors with the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.

“While this program is confidential between players and the doctors, the grave nature of this incident should have resulted in further action on our part. The fact that it did not was a serious failure.”

Fehr went on to say that he was “committed to making changes” to ensure a case like Beach’s did not happen again, though he did not detail a plan for what those changes may entail.

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