“I would just like someone to listen.” Why frustrated accusers of ex-Olympic coach turned to state | Michigan Radio
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“I would just like someone to listen.” Why frustrated accusers of ex-Olympic coach turned to state

Feb 21, 2019

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office is launching its own investigation into John Geddert, the former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach who’s been accused of physical abuse by several athletes.

 

The move comes just over a week after Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd told a group of frustrated women and girls that he does not have enough evidence yet to charge John Geddert with a crime.

The Eaton County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating Geddert for more than a year, with help from Michigan State Police.

 

During a news conference Thursday morning, Attorney General Dana Nessel said her office is taking over the Geddert investigation with Lloyd’s approval, due to her office’s “relationship with survivors.” Nessel said the investigation will be led by prosecutor Danielle Hagaman-Clark.

 

Who is John Geddert?

 

Geddert is famous within the sport for training elite gymnasts -- and infamous for his close connections to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. The two had worked together for decades and were close friends. Many Nassar survivors reported being abused by the sports doctor at Geddert’s Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, located outside Lansing.

 

Geddert was one of two head coaches for the 2012 Olympic team (featuring the “fierce five” lineup of McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber). Geddert was also Wieber’s personal coach when she nabbed the world championship title in 2011.

"John's not just some tough coach. He's an abusive, narcissistic pig who finds great joy in tearing little girls apart. And it needs to stop."

He’s also been the subject of multiple criminal investigations into alleged physical abuse, dating back to 1986, and has repeatedly been accused by former athletes of physical, verbal and emotional abuse. At least one athlete says he drove her to attempt suicide. Several mentioned him during their victim impact statements at Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearings in early 2018.

 

In January 2018, Geddert sent out an email to Twistars families saying he was planning to retire. USA Gymnastics currently lists him as “suspended from all contact” with gymnasts.

 

Michigan Radio reached out to Geddert's attorney for this story and did not receive a response.

 

Frustrated victims, parents and coaches reach out

 

Current and former gymnasts and their parents say they told police about physical injuries the athletes suffered while training under Geddert, including broken bones and concussions. They say they’ve also suffered long-term detrimental effects to their mental health.  

 

They accuse Geddert of fostering a hostile and unprofessional environment where he would scream at, belittle, and punish gymnasts.

 

“I would just like someone to listen, to sit down and listen to us and to talk to the girls and see what they went through,” one parent said. Michigan Radio is not identifying this parent because their child is part of the ongoing investigation.

 

“John's not just some tough coach. He's an abusive, narcissistic pig who finds great joy in tearing little girls apart. And it needs to stop.”

 

Frustrated by the pace of progress, several parents and victims say they’ve reached out to state and federal politicians. They pestered their lawyers into setting up a meeting with officials in Eaton County handling the Geddert case.

 

Sources say Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd was blunt with his assessment in that meeting, saying he thinks Geddert “is a piece of shit” but that there’s not enough evidence to bring charges.

 

Michigan Radio is not identifying the participants in that meeting because Lloyd warned them it was strictly for victims.

 

They recall Lloyd told the group the prosecutor’s office hasn’t been through all the evidence yet, and that it would take months to review it all.

 

It became clear over the course of the meeting that there were some discrepancies in the police reports, those participating said. So authorities printed copies of their statements to police to take home and review.

 

"Any witness who is aware of potential errors or discrepancies in reports should contact either the police investigators who prepared the reports or the prosecuting office handling that case," Lloyd wrote in response to an emailed list of questions, adding that his respect for the victims and the rules of his office prevented him from further comment about the meeting.

 

As for the state taking over the investigation, Lloyd wrote: "This transition was thoughtful, coordinated and has my full support."

 

A history of assault complaints

 

Geddert has been investigated for assault on at least four other occasions.

 

Police reports show the Lansing Police Department investigated Geddert in 1986 for allegedly pushing some spectators at the now-closed Great Lakes Gymnastics down a flight of stairs. Geddert said he only escorted the spectators outside the gym and denied pushing anyone.

 

Lansing Police investigated him again in 1990 for allegedly grabbing a male gymnast by his shirt and pushing him to the ground. Geddert told police the gymnast fell.

 

Charges weren’t filed in either case.

 

In 2011 and 2013, Geddert became the focus of two separate Michigan State Police investigations.

 

A parent of a former Twistars gymnast filed the 2011 complaint. She told police that Geddert stepped on her foot and chest bumped her during a heated argument in the gym parking lot.

 

The case ended up with the Eaton County Prosecutor's Office. Neil O’Brien, the assistant prosecuting attorney at the time, denied charges, writing: “We cannot prove assaultive intent beyond a reasonable doubt.”

 

John Geddert hugs U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber after winning the women's individual all-around final at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Tokyo in 2011.
Credit Kim Kyung Hoon / REUTERS / Adobe Stock

In 2013, a juvenile gymnast told police Geddert got mad at her and took her into the locker room. She said Geddert stepped on her foot, grabbed her arm, and pushed her into a wall.

 

“I thought that if I went in that [locker] room that he would like choke me or something,” she said.

 

“She got her ass chewed,” Geddert told police. But he denied assaulting the gymnast and told police he “has a good track record and knows how to handle children.”

 

Lloyd reviewed the complaint and found enough evidence to charge Geddert, but allowed him to seek counseling instead. Lloyd also ordered him to issue an apology letter to the gymnast who accused him.

 

Some of the same individuals who tried to tell investigators about Geddert’s abuse in years past are among those seeking justice in the current investigation.

"Adults with the power and authority to take action are unwilling to do so. The authorities in the community are neither protecting nor empowering these young women."

 

Nineteen-year-old Claire Wozniewski is one of them.

 

The former Twistars gymnast says Geddert physically abused her for years, including a time when she says he head-butted her during practice in a gym filled with people.

 

It’s one of the many stories Wozniewski said she told a private investigator back in 2013.

 

That private investigator, Don Brooks, said he was hired by USA Gymnastics to investigate Geddert after a former Twistars coach sent a seven-page letter to former CEO Steve Penny.

 

That coach, Claire Norman, detailed her experiences in the letter to Penny. “I’m truly concerned for the wellbeing of the athletes under his care,” she wrote, detailing several troubling incidents, including one attempted suicide.

 

Emails show Brooks was regularly sharing information with the Michigan State Police detective handling the case and a victim advocate from the Eaton County prosecutor’s office.

 

“Since the prosecuting attorney’s office asked me to gather some information, I will send you what I gather,” Brooks wrote. “It is SAD the hold (Geddert) has on these people. The girls fear him and his retaliation.”

 

A public records request for the 2013 investigation shows that Brooks forwarded the names of a number of victims and witnesses to Michigan State Police. But it’s not clear investigators followed up with any of those people.

 

Wozniewski said prosecutors told her she can no longer get justice in the criminal case against Geddert because the statute of limitations has expired.

 

"I reached out years ago and gave testimony to the abusive behaviors at Gedderts' Twistars. My information fell silent,” Wozniewski said. “Shame on those who silenced me."

 

Claire’s mother, Buffy Wozniewski, is frustrated. “Did we learning nothing from the Larry Nassar/MSU scandal?” she asked. “For law enforcement not to acknowledge abuse, allows abuse to thrive.”

 

Claire Norman, the former coach who wrote the letter alerting USA Gymnastics to Geddert’s alleged behavior, says there are many young women who are still struggling to heal.

 

“Adults with the power and authority to take action are unwilling to do so. The authorities in the community are neither protecting nor empowering these young women,” Norman said.

 

This story was updated at 1:23 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21 to add comment from the Eaton Co. prosecutor.