Teen gymnast sues former Gig Harbor gym following sexual misconduct By Cochran Douglas on October 30, 2023

By Aspen Shumpert - The News Tribune | Follow the link to access the online article

A Gig Harbor teen has sued her former gymnastics coach and her former gym, accusing the coach of sexual misconduct and the gym of failing to protect her.

The Gateway previously reported that the coach, 31-year-old Andrew Smith, was placed on a coaching suspension list by SafeSport & USA Gymnastics on Sept. 6, 2023, and that his suspension will last for two years. He has not been charged with a crime.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport is an agency authorized by Congress to handle abuse complaints in Olympic and Paralympic activities. The lawsuit, filed Oct. 25 in Pierce County Superior Court, names Smith and the North American Sports Academy (NASA Gymnastics) in Gig Harbor, where he worked.

The Gateway reached out to Andrew Smith and Linda Smith Thursday for comment about the lawsuit. Linda Smith owns the gym. She is also Andrew Smith’s mother. Both said they had not yet been served with the lawsuit. Andrew Smith declined to comment about the lawsuit before that happens.

The Gateway does not name victims of sexual abuse without their consent. The family asked that the minor be identified by her first name, Alyssa.

Alyssa accused Smith of touching her inappropriately. She was 15 at the time.

Attorney Loren Cochran of the Cochran Douglas law firm is representing her. “I think the family feels that because the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office has refused to pursue criminal charges, filing a civil suit is their only option to get accountability for what happened to (Alyssa),” Cochran told the Gateway. “... For (Alyssa’s) family, the path to accountability is to hold NASA Gymnastics and Andrew Smith civilly liable.”

Statement from the gymnast

Alyssa said she wants her story heard.

“If it weren’t for Drew I would still love the sport I once did,” she told the Gateway in a statement. “I kept quiet for so long because my fear of losing gymnastics outweighed every discomfort I had. I did it for my teammates and to protect the future of other athletes. Even if my story only protects one person, to me that is a story worth telling.”

Her statement went on to say: “The outcome is very disappointing to me as I feel he took a huge piece of me that I will never get back. I don’t feel I’m getting the justice I deserve, but If there is one thing that can come from telling my story, I want to be a voice for anyone who is afraid to speak up.”

She wrote that she wants to inspire others to speak up.

“I want to be the support to other athletes that I never felt I had,” the statement said. “I hope victims of sexual assault know they are not the problem. I want people to know they are more than their sport and they are more than their abusers.”

Allegations in the lawsuit

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, makes the following allegations about what happened:

Smith gave Alyssa private lessons starting in 2021. The abuse allegedly happened from August 2021 to December 2021.

Alyssa “was sexually harassed, sexually abused and physically, emotionally and mentally harmed by the defendants and/or their agents,” the complaint for damages said.

The lawsuit alleges Smith inappropriately touched and sexually abused Alyssa while spotting her. Before having her attempt a dangerous skill: “Coach Drew would make (Alyssa) dance with him,” the lawsuit said. “He would spin (Alyssa), dip her and then tell her to look into his eyes and bite her lips as he bit his.”

He’d also allegedly hug her, pick her up, spread her legs and wrap them around him before he’d kiss her on the forehead, the lawsuit said.

All of these actions occurred when no other gymnast was around, the lawsuit alleged.

She’s “suffered and continues to suffer general and special damages including, but not limited to, emotional distress, physical and mental pain and suffering, medical expenses, a decrease in her ability to enjoy life, and other general and special damages, all in an amount to be determined at trial,” the lawsuit said. “These damages have continued and will continue indefinitely into the future.”

The coaching suspension list

Smith was placed on a coaching suspension list by SafeSport & USA Gymnastics on Sept. 6, 2023. The list, called the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Centralized Disciplinary Database, is available at uscenterforsafesport.org. The “misconduct” section of Smith’s entry in the database says: “Violated NGB (National Governing Body) policies/bylaws; Inappropriate Conduct; Emotional Misconduct; and Physical Misconduct.”

It doesn’t provide further detail. “NASA had a duty to use reasonable care to protect (Alyssa) from the harm of sexual abuse, but failed to do so, resulting in the harm of (Alyssa),” Cochran said.

The Gateway spoke with Smith after he was suspended, before the lawsuit was filed.

He said he cooperated during the SafeSport investigation and participated in education courses by SafeSport.

He said he was let go from NASA gymnastics in 2021, and that he went on to briefly work for Ascend Gymnastics in DuPont. He said those are the only two gyms where he’s worked, and that he has no current plans to coach after his suspension is over.

The gym owner, Linda Smith told the Gateway previously that the gym has been in business for 42 years and has an open-door policy for the public to come and watch practices at any time.

“It’s been a learning experience,” she told the Gateway previously. “We’ve all learned from it, and we’re always trying to build a better environment. I personally feel that we have a very safe environment. We are not a pushy gym. We try to teach from a very fundamental, quality-based atmosphere, as well as skill and progressions. I hope people can see we’ve been in the community for a very long time and have had a positive effect on the community.”

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