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    Los Angeles-area youth gymnastics coach under investigation for 2nd time in 5 years
    • October 11, 2023

    A Los Angeles-based gymnastics coach is the target of an investigation into his alleged inappropriate behavior involving young athletes for the second time in five years, according to confidential U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Gymnastics documents obtained by the Southern California News Group.

    The U.S. Center for SafeSport said it will investigate allegations by multiple parents that Colden Raisher, 35, has engaged in one-on-one texting with minor-aged girls he coaches at The Klub Gymnastics, a club in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake area, in violation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Gymnastics policies, according to SafeSport, USA Gymnastics and club documents.

    SafeSport’s decision to investigate Raisher comes after USA Gymnastics referred the case to the Center last month citing the nature of the allegations, according to SafeSport and USA Gymnastics emails.

    U.S. Center for SafeSport officials declined parents’ request to implement restrictions that would have prevented Raisher from having unsupervised contact with minor-aged athletes in the gym and elsewhere.

    Raisher, director of the club’s girls competition team, was placed on paid leave by The Klub Gymnastics on Thursday pending the results of the gym’s own investigation into the allegations against him, club owner Mike Eschenbrenner told parents in an email.

    “We are moving the case forward to our investigation’s (SIC) unit,” Jennifer Smith, U.S. Center for SafeSport intake coordinator, said in a recent email to a Klub parent. “A decision was made to NOT implement any temporary measure at this time, to include a no contact directive.

    “For this reason, Mr. Raisher will not be notified at this time that we are investigating him, what the allegations are or who is talking with the Center. If he has heard there’s an investigation and reaches out, other than being told there is an open case, he will not be given any information at this time. Meaning, while the case proceeds, he will not be told right now that you and your daughter have anything to do with it.”

    A USA Gymnastics investigator also confirmed in an email to another Klub parent that SafeSport has taken over the Raisher case.

    “Due to the nature of the allegations, this matter was referred to the U.S. Center for SafeSport (the Center), an independent non-profit organization with exclusive jurisdiction over allegations of sexual misconduct, including child sexual abuse, as well as the authority to have discretionary jurisdiction over any alleged violations of the SafeSport Code for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement,” April Clark, a USA Gymnastics investigator, wrote to the parent.

    In addition to being a method to engage inappropriate conversations and transmit sexually explicit images, texting and other electronic communication are widely regarded as a way for predatory coaches or officials to groom young athletes for inappropriate relationships and contact.

    The U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Gymnastics have “prevention policies” stating that all one-on-one electronic communications between adult participants and minor athletes must be open and transparent and include another adult participant, whether it be another adult coach or parent or participant. Those communications include texts, emails, phone or video calls, social media, direct messaging and gaming platforms.

    The Klub Gymnastics has a similar policy, Eschenbrenner wrote in the email to parents.

    “One or more of our kids have been engaging in one-on-one text messaging with other their coach(es),” Eschenbrenner said in the email. “One-on-one text messaging is when your child/gymnast has a texting/DM conversation without at least one parent or adult coach on the text chain. Let me be clear, this is a violation of SafeSport policies and a violation of our TKB Team Policies.”

    It is not clear whether Eschenbrenner or Klub employees were aware of the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s decision to investigate Raisher.

    Raisher and Eschenbrenner did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    “I have not had the opportunity to review any possible text messages as of yet,” Russell Prince, an attorney for Raisher, wrote in an email to SCNG on this week. “However, it’s my understanding that the club requires the team coaches to provide their personal cell numbers to the families through the Team Handbook. It’s important to remember that if text messages do exist, they may not violate the one-on-one communication policy – and I am certain if any messages do exist they are not ‘grooming’ in nature. Certainly, I would expect that if inappropriate messages did exist the person who contacted you with their complaint would have provided them to you to elevate the nature of your reporting on it. If there are indeed text message exchanges between the family, athlete, and coach, they will be produced for review by either USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

    “It’s coach Raisher’s understanding that a complaint has been filed, but it remains unclear where that complaint was filed. We have reached out to the USAG and the Center to seek their assistance in determining who has jurisdiction of the matter and what investigator will be assigned to review any formal documentation related to the complaint. Finally, those text messages are confidential under federal statute and the release of the text messages publicly would likely be a proactive violation of the Code at the Center. It’s unfortunate coach Raisher can’t produce any potential messages outside of the formal investigation. It’s fundamentally unfair for the rules that govern sport to allow complainants the latitude to do as they wish in circumstances such as these, but disallows a coach the ability to publicly disseminate any exculpatory evidence that exists. In this case, that would likely be the text messages themselves.”

    USA Gymnastics first received complaints from Klub Gymnastics parents about Raisher over the summer, according to USA Gymnastics documents.

    A U.S. Center for SafeSport investigator has not been assigned to the Raisher case at this point, according to a SafeSport document. Such an assignment might not be made for up to 12 weeks, Smith wrote in an email to parents.

    Raisher was suspended by USA Gymnastics in 2018 while he was being investigated by the national governing body for alleged inappropriate behavior. Under terms of the 2018 suspensions, Raisher was allowed to continue to coach but was prohibited from having any “unsupervised contact with minors.”

    The Klub Gymnastics employees said at the time they were unaware of Raisher’s suspension or the allegations against him until they were questioned by SCNG about the investigation and sanction.

    Raisher, in a brief interview with SCNG at the time, said he didn’t have time to go into the specifics of the allegations against him. The USA Gymnastics by-law his suspension is based on stated that his “continued participation could be detrimental to the sport or its reputation.”

    “There was no physical or sexual abuse,” Raisher said. “I’ve never done anything questionable. I’m one of the good guys in the sport. USA Gymnastics is trying to cast a very wide net. They’re trying to catch a lot of bad guys. I agree with that. But now anybody can report anything.”

    He said in 2018 that the allegations were made by officials at another gym. He previously worked at Golden State Gymnastics in Burbank.

    “This has nothing to do with Safe Sport or anything sexual,” Raisher said. “I changed gyms a couple of months ago and they’re retaliating against me.”

    Golden State said in a statement in 2018 that it “has not made any complaints against Colden Raisher.”

    Raisher said in 2018 he would be willing to talk about his case and explain why he was innocent of the allegations when he had more time, but did not respond to subsequent requests from SCNG to do so.

    A USA Gymnastics hearing panel in November 2018 chose not to extend Raisher’s suspension. “After four days of testimony, released a formal decision finding there was no reasonable cause to withhold or encumber Mr. Raisher’s professional membership,” Prince said in an email. “Mr. Raisher was asked to complete additional education regarding coaching techniques that USAG had just begun to use. The requirement was timely completed.

    “That document is confidential under the rules.”

    Raisher regularly posts coaching technique videos on YouTube that show him working with gymnasts.

    “This is a very tough decision and one that we did not take lightly,” Eschenbrenner wrote in the email to parents last week. “There have been enough accusations that we feel this is the best and only direction to go in until we get more clarity.

    “To be clear, Colden is innocent until proven guilty and yet I know it looks otherwise since he is on leave. For that reason, I am also asking for you to share your support for his return. You can do that by clearly communicating what you know of your daughter’s own one-on-one text messages especially if you find no issue.”

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