Knoxville cheer coach and gym are the subjects of a sexual abuse lawsuit: What we know – Knoxville News Sentinel

Knoxville cheer gym Premier Athletics and one of its coaches have drawn national attention after a federal lawsuit filed Monday said the coach sexually abused two boys and that the allegations were swept under the rug by the gym manager and national cheer associations.
The 22-year-old coach, who has not been named by Knox News because he has not been criminally charged, was fired by the gym, Premier Athletics in West Knoxville, and suspended from the national federation.
Here’s what we know, and don’t know, about the suit:
The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Memphis on behalf of the two boys, listed as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2.
John Doe 1 is a minor and a Knox County resident, according to the suit. John Doe 2 is a Union County resident and still competes as a cheer athlete for Premier Athletics, the suit says.
Previously:Teens file lawsuit saying Knoxville cheer gym and coach didn’t protect them from sex abuse
Rockstar Cheer scandal:What to know about Scott Foster lawsuits, allegations
According to the lawsuit filed by the two teenagers who said they were sexually abused:
∎ The teenagers behind the lawsuit were 14 when their coach began grooming them for a sexual relationship.
∎ The coach was considered a “cheerlebrity” on a nationally renowned all-star team. He had a huge social media before he was hired by Premier Athletics in 2020.
∎ The coach began following John Doe 1 on Snapchat in November or December 2021 and sent him sexually explicit photos and messages in January of this year. John Doe 1 learned the coach had engaged in similar predatory behavior with two other underage athletes at Premier Athletics.
∎ The coach continued to contact John Doe 1 and the two engaged in sex acts in May 2022. The boy soon transferred to a new gym.
∎ John Doe 2 also was 14 when the coach began sending him nude photographs and was just 16 when the coach persuaded him to begin a sexual relationship.
The lawsuit asserts the coach’s misconduct was enabled by the gym manager and the company Varsity, which organizes cheer competitions and created the U.S. All-Star Federation, the nonprofit governing body for the sport of competitive cheer.
The lawsuit says that despite multiple reports of sexual misconduct, the coach was suspended by Premier Athletics but allowed to give private lessons at the gym through most of September.
The coach continued to conduct camps and even bragged he was not permanently banned and had been assured by the gym manager he wouldn’t be fired, according to the suit.
The national cheer association has received hundreds of such complaints over the years but has failed to manage its investigations adequately, the lawsuit says: “USAF has been excruciatingly slow to develop policies and procedures for keeping athletes safe from sexual abuse in an industry rife with it.”
The lawsuit asserts multiple wrongdoings including gross negligence, negligent supervision, and assault and battery, as well as violating a federal law meant to prevent the sexual abuse of minors by requiring the prompt reporting of abuse to law enforcement.
The suit seeks compensatory, actual and consequential damages, statutory damages and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and any additional unspecified relief deemed appropriate.
The coach started as a member of the University of Tennessee Spirit Program for the 2022-23 academic year, a spokesperson for UT Athletics confirmed in an email. The cheerleader was suspended from participation in all spirit activities on Sept. 16 and was dropped from the program Sept. 27.
Premier Athletics contracts with UT for coaching services, according to the lawsuit.
After Premier Athletics “bungled” its internal investigation of the complaints, according to the lawsuit, John Doe 1 and his mother reported the abuse to police on Sept. 15. That report was forwarded to the state Department of Child Services, the suit says.
A Premier Athletics spokesperson said the gym first received a report of inappropriate photographs from a different athlete on June 26 and “immediately” reported the claim to law enforcement. Police determined the complaint could not be substantiated, according to the gym’s spokesperson. Premier Athletics received information about John Doe 1’s complaint on Sept. 18 and reported that to law enforcement as well, the spokesperson said.
A Knox County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman denied Knox News’ request to read the reports but confirmed the department is investigating.
The Knox County District Attorney’s Office refused to answer questions on the status of the investigation, with a spokesperson citing ethical rules prohibiting it from commenting on pending investigations. 
Families in South Carolina filed a similar lawsuit this month, using the same law firm.
Nine plaintiffs in that suit say they were sexually abused at Rockstar Cheer and Dance, a now-closed competitive cheerleading gym in Greer, South Carolina.
And like the Tennessee filing, the South Carolina lawsuit also takes aim at Varsity, U.S. All Star Federation and USA Cheer, in addition to Varsity founder Jeff Webb and owner Bain Capital.
More:Rockstar Cheer sex abuse scandal grows as more coaches are accused
A Memphis-based company called Varsity Spirit is named in the lawsuits. The families say the firm is culpable because it is deeply connected to all facets of the industry.  
Varsity organizes cheer competitions and created the U.S. All-Star Federation, the nonprofit governing body for the sport of competitive cheer.
An attorney in the suit directly addressed why families say Varsity is part of the problem.
“They allowed young people to be abused simply so they could do things like build a new building in downtown Memphis. And so we chose this location to file this lawsuit so that all these victims could know that we’re taking this message to their front door,” said Bakari Sellers, an attorney with Strom Law Firm, former South Carolina state legislator and a CNN political analyst.  
The lawsuit brought against the Knoxville gym and coach was filed in the Memphis-based federal court.
The lawsuit was filed Monday and summons were issued for all parties Tuesday. Defendants then have 21 days to file an answer to the complaint or a default judgment will be entered against them.
The cases will be automatically referred for alternate dispute resolution, although the complaint does demand a jury trial. No court dates have yet been set.


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