Sexual assault allegations against soccer team members prompt a reckoning for USF

Petition leads to suspension of professional soccer player, changes in university policy

By Gabriel Greschler

An online petition alleging a toxic sexual environment in the University of San Francisco men’s soccer team has led to the suspension of a professional soccer player and forced the university to reconsider its handling of sexual misconduct and assault cases.

Manny Padilla, a former USF soccer player, was suspended on July 14 from his position with the New Mexico United soccer team after the petition brought to light allegations against him dating back to his college years. The petition, which had nearly 5,000 signatures as of Sunday, lists numerous allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against players dating back several years.

After his suspension, USF confirmed that Padilla, now 24, had been found responsible for violating the university’s sexual misconduct policy during his time at the university, where he played from 2014 to 2017. USF officials said they would review the Padilla case, begin an investigation into the allegations against the men’s soccer team and audit their own Title IX processes. The investigation will be publicly available once completed.

The university also said it would change its policy for athletes.

“Moving forward, any student who is found responsible for sexual misconduct or sexual assault will now be immediately removed from university-sponsored, non-academic activities, including intercollegiate athletics,” said Ellen Ryder, a university spokeswoman.

According to documents obtained by the San Francisco Examiner, Padilla was found responsible for violating sexual misconduct policy during his sophomore year at USF in 2015 after he was accused of forcing himself onto then-sophomore Julia Casciano while requesting sex and groping her inside a dormitory room. Casciano has agreed to allow the Examiner to identify her for this article.

Despite the university’s findings, Padilla’s soccer career was not affected at the time.

The university did place Padilla on probation and deferred suspension, had him attend mandated counseling and “gender-based educational and developmental conversations and activities,” and made him relocate dormitories away from the victim during his sophomore year, according to documents from the University’s Office of Student Conduct.

Padilla’s professional soccer team, New Mexico United, declined to comment further on the situation and declined to facilitate an interview with Padilla. Padilla did not respond to phone calls or text messages requesting an interview.

According to his roster on the university’s website, Padilla, who is from Compton, Calif., played consistently in USF soccer games after the 2015 incident occurred, under the tutelage of Coach Eddie Soto, who left the university in 2019 after a five year stint.

After graduating in 2017, Padilla joined the Rio Grande Valley Football Club. In 2019, he joined New Mexico United.

In an interview with Casciano, now 23, she states that she and Padilla had a non-platonic relationship one month prior to the sexual misconduct incident. But after finding out Padilla was already in a relationship with someone else, she broke off contact with him.

On Oct. 1, 2015, Padilla invited Casciano to his dorm room. Once she entered the room, Casciano said she and Padilla spoke for a minute before he got on top of her and held her down, asking for sex.

“I kept telling him to stop and said no and to get off me,” Casciano said in an interview with The Examiner. “He stuck his hand up my shirt. He put his hand down my pants and started feeling me. I didn’t know what to do. I just froze. I just laid there.”

Casciano recalled the interaction lasting about 20 minutes before she got up and left. She immediately told her roommate what happened.

On Oct. 6, the university’s Title IX office opened an investigation after hearing from another student about the incident. The university’s office of student conduct also issued a mutual “no contact” directive, which forbade both Casciano or Padilla from reaching out to each other in person, by telephone, email, text message, or through a third party, according to documents.

After the university found Padilla responsible in December 2015, Casciano appealed the sanctions that were placed on Padilla, requesting that he “be expelled from the university,” according to the appeal.

Casciano also alleged in the appeal that Padilla broke the “no contact” policy by approaching her through a third party.

On Jan. 19, 2016, Casciano’s father wrote a letter to USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald, requesting that the university review the case.

“The predicament I’m in as a father and still the protector of my growing child is how do I continue to keep her safe when she is under the supervision of the University,” Casciano’s father wrote. “Is allowing the offender to stay on the campus an appropriate action?”

On Fitzgerald’s behalf, in an emailed response on Feb. 4, 2016, the university’s vice provost, Julie Orio, reaffirmed the university’s decision to not remove Padilla from the university.

In a statement, USF confirmed that it had reviewed the case at the time but determined that the existing sanctions would stand. The university also stated that, apart from the 2015 incident, Padilla was not found responsible for other violations of sexual misconduct during his time at USF.

Casciano said that because Padilla’s soccer career was not penalized and he wasn’t removed from campus, she became disillusioned by the university’s handling of the case.

Later in February 2016, Casciano planned to move dormitories for her junior year, but she was taken aback when the university’s Title IX office suggested that Padilla could also live in the same dormitory during his junior year, according to emails.

Casciano wrote to the office, stating that, “I would prefer that he not be anywhere in my vicinity if that is at all possible.”

The housing situation was what made her ultimately decide to transfer to the University of San Diego for her junior year. She graduated in 2018 from there with a chemistry degree.

Casciano said she is “pleased” that the university will now impose penalties on student’s athletic careers if they are found violating sexual misconduct policy.

“I’m honestly shocked,” Casciano said about her case resurfacing five years later. “I buried this a long time ago. I feel like [Padilla] should be held accountable for his actions. I think that USF should be held accountable for their actions. I don’t think they handled it properly whatsoever.”

She also emphasized that she did not intend to place blame on every athlete at USF.

“I want to be clear that not all sports teams at USF are problematic, nor do I feel every man on a sports team is a predator,” Casciano said. “I do not want to generalize all of [USF] Athletics. The truth is, evidence has shown some bad seeds in certain teams over the years.”

Casciano also retained outside legal counsel with a Pasadena, California attorney in 2016, but chose to not file a case against USF due to time constraints and the “negative energy” surrounding the situation.

USF said it has no record of New Mexico United requesting information about the 2015 incident when it initially hired Padilla in 2019.

“Even if asked, due to law, the university would first need legal consent from the former student and our information shows no such information,” USF’s Ryder said.

When asked whether USF ever informs the teams its players are drafted to of sexual misconduct cases, Ryder said, “Student disciplinary or other student records (except for academic transcripts released to academic institutions) are not released to employers or prospective employers unless the student/former student legally consents or there is a valid subpoena or other legal process.”

USF confirmed that New Mexico United requested Padilla’s records after suspending him on July 14, and that Padilla consented to the request.

In the July 17 announcement stating it would conduct an investigation, USF said it would also create a position within its Title IX office devoted entirely to its Athletics Department, hire a person who will serve as a confidential resource for students, and “hold discussion sessions on the impact these recent reports and allegations have had on our community.”

Hours after USF released their plans to conduct a widespread investigation, San Francisco City Football Club, an ameuter club soccer team that Padilla and other USF soccer athletes have played for, announced it was suspending its relationship with the university.

“We have enjoyed a close relationship with USF and its soccer program for many years,” the statement read. “Given these serious allegations of misconduct, neglect, and failure to investigate sexual assaults, we will be suspending our affiliation with the University pending further investigation.”

The club team also said it was conducting its own internal investigation “to see what we could have done to help bring this to light earlier.”

Gabriel Greschler is a staff writer at J. Weekly and an interactive producer at KQED. He’s the former editor of USF’s student newspaper, the Foghorn.

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