FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WISH) — Two former student-athletes at Huntington University have filed suit against the school and its former track coach, claiming the university violated the athletes’ Title IX rights and failed to protect them from their predatory coach.
Hannah Stoffel and Emma Wilson filed the suit in federal court on Sept. 30. News 8 typically does not name the victims of sexual assault but is doing so with the agreement of their attorneys.
According to the suit, now-former Huntington University cross-country and track coach Nick Johnson inappropriately touched female athletes, manipulated them, sexually assaulted them and injected them with substances.
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The suit compares Johnson to both Larry Nassar, who was convicted of rape after being the team doctor of the U.S. women’s national gymnastics team, and the physician for Lance Armstrong, the cycling champion stripped of titles due to blood doping.
“The following is the Complaint of two former student-athletes at Huntington University who were victims of a coach and his supporters that gave Larry Nassaresque massages all the while acting like Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France pharmacist injecting unknown substances into their bodies,” the plaintiffs state in the filing. “His name is Nicholas Johnson and he should be in prison.”
Johnson’s wife, Lauren Johnson, is also named in the suit. She was an assistant track and cross-country coach until taking over as head coach when Johnson was fired after being criminally charged in 2020. Curtis Hines, an assistant coach, and the Huntington University Board of Trustees are also named.
“There’s at least one adult victim of sexual abuse, one minor victim of sexual abuse, and an innumerable number of people who were injected under false pretenses or against their will,” said Jon Little, attorney for the plaintiffs. “The scope of this is going to be are the people of Huntington, Indiana are they going to say look this conduct is not appropriate we need to condemn it or are they going to hide behind the church and the Christian wall of silence and let these keep going, we’ll find out.”
Plaintiffs allege injections, massages, rape
Stoffel and Wilson were top runners while at Huntington University, winning NAIA national championships.
The Johnsons returned to their alma mater in 2018 as coaches after spending time with the Nike Oregon Track Club. The suit claims that Lauren Johnson was kicked out of the Nike Oregon Track Club in 2015 and Nick Johnson was fired as an assistant coach at the same time.
After the split with the Nike Oregon Track Club, the suit alleges that Nick Johnson become involved with the Nike Oregon Project. The Nike Oregon Project was led by Alberto Salazar, who was found guilty of doping and banned by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Administration following investigative reporting by the BBC and ProPublica.
The plaintiffs claim the Johnsons brought Salazar’s tactics to the northeastern Indiana Christian university.
“The doping program instituted at Huntington University by Nicholas and Lauren Johnson is, however, strikingly similar to the doping program exposed at the NOP,” the suit claims. “Huntington University and Curtis Hines both knew or should have known about the doping program at the NOP.”
Their bios remain on Huntington’s website but do not mention any connection to the Nike Oregon Project.
In 2019, the plaintiffs claim Johnson held a meeting with some cross country members, including Stoffel, regarding “his performance-enhancing drugs.”
“Nicholas Johnson stated that he was conducting a ‘study’ or ‘experiment’ endorsed by Nike and Huntington University’s athletic director, Dr. Lori Culler,” the suit claims. “He further stated that select members of the team would receive injections and that they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.”
Johnson allegedly used shots, pills and creams on athletes without telling them exactly what the “treatments” were.
Little said, “This was not happening in the dark, Nick’s behavior was entirely observable and his history with performance-enhancing drugs was known publically before he even got to Huntington, so this is on Huntington.”
Stoffel said Johnson physically held her down and administered four shots in her lower back and near her uterus as she was recovering from an Achilles injury and poison ivy. She said she tried to reject the shots.
“This is an instance where you have a coach on day-to-day contact, he’s the champion of these girls’ athletic dreams,” said Little. “He told them ‘I’m the only one that can get you there.’ He was their confidant all the time. He took advantage of them in a very overt way.”
Stoffel also claims that Johnson raped her on several occasions between July 2020 and November 2020, using “physical force, coercion, threats, and promises” against Stoffel.
Little said, “Interactions between actions and coaches, children and adults, or adults and adults always need to be observable and interruptable.”
Stoffel later transferred to Indiana University and Wilson to the University of Indianapolis.
Johnson fired after 2020 arrest
Johnson was charged in December 2020 after being accused of child seduction, kidnapping and identity deception.
The lawsuit by Stoffel and Wilson claims the victim in the case was an high school runner in Indiana.
According to court documents at the time, Johnson admitted to touching the victim in a “sensual” manner.
“Mr. Johnson stated he did treatments in his garage with Victim 1 and discussed a chest treatment he performed on Victim 1 several times. Mr. Johnson stated there were times during this treatment he touched Victim 1’s breast in a sensual manner with the intention to arouse or please Victim 1. Mr. Johnson agreed this touch crossed the line and violated any method of treatment, as it was again described as a sensual touch by Mr. Johnson,” a probable cause affidavit states.
The victim’s mother said Johnson created an email under a fake name, pretending to be a woman and arranging an out-of-state college recruiting trip for the child. The mother believed the child was traveling alone. When asked by police, Johnson told police he took the minor to another state to pick up a puppy.
The victim told police that Johnson reached underneath her shorts to massage her buttocks.
Johnson later received a plea deal in the case after the child seduction and kidnapping charges were dropped. Huntington County Prosecutor Jeremy Nix said the victim became uncooperative with the investigation.
“During the pendency of the case, Victim 1 not only became uncooperative but began to actively undermine the case – recanted some allegations under oath, posted derogatory comments about the investigators on social media, wrote letters to the Court, etc. Following a deposition of Victim 1 given under oath, Count 1 was dismissed prior to the scheduled trial. Even after the charges related to Victim 1 were dismissed, the minor continued to write to the Court and insert themselves into the case,” Nix said in an email to News 8. “Given the lack of cooperation and then active undermining of the case, a plea offer to Count 4 only was offered to Johnson and the remaining counts related to Victim 1 were dismissed.”
For the identity deception charge, he received thirty days in county jail and home detention with electronic monitoring.
The suit also claims that parents of Huntington high school students took their concerns to the university without any action being taken.
“In the summer of 2020, parents of Huntington High School athletes informed John Doe Defendants at Huntington that they were concerned about the flow of high school girls into and out of the Johnson home,” the suit alleges.
Johnson’s wife takes over program despite concerns
Lauren Johnson was promoted to coach after Nick Johnson was fired from the school.
According to the lawsuit, “numerous” team members and parents were concerned about Lauren Johnson taking over.
The suit claims that Johnson continued to do workouts with Huntington University runners, had runners over to the house and kept contact with the minor victim from the 2020 arrest.
Stoffel also claims that she told the Huntington Police Department about what was happening with Johnson but that no action was taken.
News 8 received this statement from Huntington University:
“University leadership has been made aware that a civil suit was filed that names the University, as well as individuals formerly and currently associated with the University. Huntington University is doing its due diligence but cannot comment further at this time.”
News 8 has not received a statement from Nike about their alleged involvement with Johnson.
Johnson’s attorney has declined to comment.
The suit seeks “compensatory and punitive damages” as well as a jury trial.