Civil suit filed against US Gymnastics after coach’s sexual misc - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Civil suit filed against US Gymnastics after coach’s sexual misconduct in Effingham Co.

William McCabe, (Source: WTOC/file) William McCabe, (Source: WTOC/file)

On the day before the Rio Olympics officially get underway, a sexual abuse scandal that began right here in Georgia 10 years ago is making headlines once again.

This is the civil case filing. Nearly 900 pages of depositions, documentation, court pleadings and testimony from USA Gymnastics officials.

But let's start by reminding everyone what USA Gymnastics is. This is the organization that governs the sport, develops all athletes for the U.S. Olympic team and promotes gymnastics at every level. If you want to be an Olympic gymnast, this is the path.

You may remember a case 10 years ago involving a USAG sanctioned coach named William McCabe.  He was accused and eventually convicted of sexual misconduct of a young lady he was coaching in Effingham County. He is now 10 years into a 30-year sentence. 

Now on the eve of the Rio Games, Savannah attorney Jeff Lasky is filing this civil law against the Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics claiming the organization spent years protecting its coaches, and in turn, its reputation at the expense of young girls being victimized by dozens of these coaches.

Lisa Ganser's daughter was Coach McCabe's victim in Effingham County.

"He knew where we lived. He knew our habits. He knew a lot of things about us that scared us and scared her,” said Ganser. "This coach we thought was our friend. This coach had Thanksgiving dinner with us."

There are still hundreds of documents the judge, in this case, has sealed from the public, including the files on dozens of coaches banned from USA Gymnastics. 

Lasky is petitioning the court to force the organization to release those files. 

This suit has the potential to radically change the way USA Gymnastics is run and open the door to more lawsuits against the organization and its former coaches.

USA Gymnastics issued a response on Thursday: 

Addressing issues of sexual misconduct has been important to USA Gymnastics for many years, and the organization is committed to promoting a safe environment for its athletes. We find it appalling that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner, and recognize the effect this behavior can have on a person’s life. USA Gymnastics has been proactive in helping to educate the gymnastics community over the years, and will continue to take every punitive action available within our jurisdiction, and cooperate fully with law enforcement. 

USA Gymnastics believes it has a duty to report to law enforcement whenever circumstances warrant, as was the case when I initiated the report of Marvin Sharp. USA Gymnastics has been assured by law enforcement that it went above and beyond its legal obligations to report on this matter. USA Gymnastics has, in the strongest terms, encouraged anyone who believes abuse has occurred to contact law enforcement and frequently works with law enforcement on these matters. 

USA Gymnastics seeks first-hand knowledge whenever allegations of abuse arise as the most reliable source to take action and as outlined in its bylaws and policies. The organization has continually reviewed its best practices on how it addresses these issues and has been among the first to initiate new policies and procedures including publishing a list of banned coaches and instituting national background checks. 

We remain committed to this effort and have been working closely with the U.S. Olympic Committee to help keep athletes safe in all sports. 

With the Judge considering whether to dismiss the pending lawsuit in Georgia, there are limits on what the organization can say publicly during litigation. Nonetheless, USA Gymnastics provided the Indianapolis Star with substantial information on its policies and procedures to demonstrate the organization's commitment to the safety of its athletes within the scope of its jurisdiction and governance structure. We feel the Star left out significant facts that would have painted a more accurate picture of our efforts.

The Lasky Cooper Law firm issued a statement in response to USA Gymnastic's statement:

The Indianapolis Star and USA Today released a front page investigative story on Thursday about a case pending in Effingham County involving a client of the Savannah law firm, Lasky Cooper Law.

Lasky Cooper Law attorneys W. Brian Cornwell and Jeffrey W. Lasky are representing an unnamed victim in a pending lawsuit focusing on the flaws in USA Gymnastics policy as it relates to the protection of its athletes who are minors from USAG member coaches who are sexual predators.

Following the release of the stories in the Star and USA Today, USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny issued a statement on behalf of USA Gymnastics defending the organization’s practices and policies. The following is an official statement from Mr. Cornwell and Mr. Lasky in response to USA Gymnastics statements related to these issues:

“The statements from USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny are indicative of USA Gymnastics’ long history of talking the talk but never walking the walk when it comes to protecting child athletes from abuse by USA Gymnastics’ member coaches. USA Gymnastics’ policies and practices were approved by its board of directors, and they alone have the sole power to change them. The policy is designed to protect its brand and sponsorship dollars instead of keeping its athletes safe from child molesters masquerading as gymnastic coaches. We look forward to our client having her day in Court in an effort to prevent these policies from harming anymore children anywhere in the country.

USA Gymnastics also has more than 50 files on coaches accused of misconduct over the years. The organization has not released those.

The courts are now being asked to force USA Gymnastics to make those files public. 

We will continue to follow the details of this civil lawsuit.  And I will continue to follow this case and bring you updates in the coming weeks and months ahead.

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