WTOC Investigates: USA Gymnastics settles sex abuse case with local gymnast

WTOC Investigates: USA Gymnastics settles sex abuse case with local gymnast

When you choose to go after one of the most powerful athletic organizations in the country - the agency that trains America's sweethearts, a gatekeeper of the Olympic dream - you better have a very good cause.

That was the challenge for two Savannah attorneys when they filed a civil lawsuit known as Jane Doe vs. USA Gymnastics. At issues, decades-old policies within USAG that hundreds of young girls claim allowed their coaches and even team doctor to molest them for more than three decades. For five years, USA Gymnastics battled it out in Effingham State Court, claiming it had no obligation to protect these young athletes from sexual predators.

Just last week, USAG suddenly settled. On the surface, that would appear to be very telling. However, that settlement lets the organization off without admitting to anything and leaves the victims of pedophile coaches feeling the system remains unbalanced.

Jane Doe's dreams of Olympic glory were tarnished before she reached the age 11. Her Effingham County coach and idol was sexually assaulting her and grooming her for much worse. Her naked pictures taken in secret were spread like wildfire across an online network of predators. It's doubtful the 10-year-old could even process what Coach Bill McCabe was doing to her. She made clear, however, what did she know about the value of his support at the time during her deposition in the case, saying, 'I mean, USA Gymnastics is like the big thing. If your coach is not affiliated with them, you're not going to get very far. If you want to go to all the big competitions and stuff like that, they are under USA Gymnastics.'

"My daughter is one of thousands and thousands of little girls who were hurt by coaches that USA Gymnastics knew about and did nothing. Did absolutely nothing," said Lisa Ganser, the victim's mother.

Once her daughter's coach, Bill McCabe, was banished to federal prison for 30 years, it was time to go after the organization that supported him, but the Jane Doe vs. USA Gymnastics civil case had no merit if you listen to the argument of the defendant. USAG insisted through five years of hearings and appeals and attempts to prevent the release of complaint files, that it has no obligation to protect the children it coaches, its executives saying, telling lawyers they are proud of the policy despite never having turned over a sexual abuse complaint to law enforcement.

"The number one way to keep molesters out of your organization is to have a policy that is published that says 'we turn all complaints over to law enforcement.' What happens? Those molesters don't come to your organization because they know that they're going to get caught, so they go to organizations that don't have that policy, like USAG," said the victim's attorney, Jeff Lasky.

The Jane Doe case here lead to dozens of lawsuits from other young gymnasts. Dr. Larry Nassar's fate was sealed when hundreds of other girls then found the courage to tell their stories. It all started with an unassuming little civil case in Effingham Court.

"The civil justice system in this country is the best civil justice system in the world. It's designed for cases like this. It's designed for a small family in Effingham County to take on behemoths like USA Gymnastics when they know that something was done wrong and it could help other people across this country."

This case and the flood of cases that have followed also prompted a change in federal law, making it a felony for the leadership of a sports organization like USAG not to report all sex abuse claims to police.

By settling the Jane Doe case, USA Gymnastics will not have to take responsibility for what happened to any of these girls at the Effingham County gym at the hands of Bill McCabe. It will also be able to keep what victims insist are volumes of secrets.

"USA Gymnastics, you believe, hides information from you despite you asking for whatever they might have had on your daughter's coach, when you asked," WTOC asked the victim's mother.

"Absolutely. Absolutely, and that is what came out later in the case against USA Gymnastics. They had file cabinets with folders full of accusations against coaches," Ganser said.

"Including Bill McCabe," we asked?

"Including Bill McCabe, and they did nothing about it," Ganser said.

Ganser says every single assault on every single gymnast was preventable. According to court documents, her daughter's abuser had been fired from multiple gyms in the past, and prosecutors insist USAG knew it.

"They knew before he stepped foot in Rincon that he was bad," Ganser said. "They knew what an evil person he was and they did nothing about it."

Something else that was preventable - the Jane Doe vs. USA Gymnastics case.

"We did go to them before we ever filed a lawsuit, and we said, 'look, this is what we got,' and, 'do you want to get it resolved, because if you don't, bad things are going to happen to your organization, and it's not our intent to ruin your organization," Lasky said. "At that point, they thumbed their noses at us, and I think they thought we were two little yahoos from Savannah, GA, who didn't know what we were doing, and we're in the little community of Effingham County and what kind of threat could that be to a giant behemoth like USAG?"

The long legal road for Lisa Ganser and her family is now over. Its impact on what was the crown jewel of the US Olympic Committee is just getting started.

"I had no idea 10 years ago when we put her coach in prison," Ganser said. "I remember telling my daughter when all this was going on, I remember telling her, 'God is using us for something big here. I don't know what it is, but God's using us for something big."

USA Gymnastics will not comment on the Jane Doe settlement. In a prepared statement, the organization says it has changed its policies pertaining to sex abuse complaints of young athletes making it mandatory for staff to forward these complaints to an in-house investigative team.

Its policy still does not require staff to contact law enforcement. Again, only a brand new federal law makes it a felony not to.

USA Gymnastics is currently facing no fewer than a dozen civil lawsuits from other gymnasts. It is also filing suit against its own insurance companies for refusing to cover all its legal fees and settlement payments.

The scandals have cost USAG its biggest sponsors including AT&T, Hershey, Kellogg's, and Proctor and Gamble.

As Jeff Lasky said, two little yahoos from Savannah and a very courageous young lady took on a giant five years ago. Tonight, that giant is on life support.

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