3 women win $60 mil­lion in sex-abuse law­suit

Vic­tims had sued their for­mer taek­wondo coach for mo­lest­ing them as mi­nors.

Los Angeles Times - - CAL­I­FOR­NIA - By Leila Miller

Three women who sued their for­mer taek­wondo in­struc­tor for sex­u­ally abus­ing them while they were mi­nors each have been awarded $20 mil­lion in dam­ages by a Cal­i­for­nia court.

The $60-mil­lion de­fault judg­ment against Marc Scott Gitel­man was awarded last week by a Los Angeles Su­pe­rior Court judge af­ter Gitel­man failed to re­spond to an amended com­plaint stem­ming from a 2015 civil law­suit filed by the plain­tiffs.

The law­suit al­leged that Gitel­man mo­lested the women from 2007 un­til his ar­rest on sex­ual as­sault charges in Au­gust 2014. Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions Gitel­man in­vited the young ath­letes to his ho­tel room to watch videos of their taek­wondo matches be­fore he sex­u­ally abused them.

Gitel­man was sen­tenced in Oc­to­ber 2015 to more than four years in state prison af­ter a Pomona jury con­victed him of mul­ti­ple felony counts, in­clud­ing oral cop­u­la­tion of a mi­nor, un­law­ful sex­ual in­ter­course and lewd acts upon a child.

He was also or­dered to reg­is­ter as a life­time sex of­fender, ac­cord­ing to the sen­tence handed down by Los Angeles County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Bruce Marrs. Gitel­man is ap­peal­ing the con­vic­tion.

“The num­bers are in line with what the val­ues of th­ese cases are,” said Stephen Estey, an at­tor­ney for one of the plain­tiffs, re­fer­ring to the dam­age award. “The judge in this case rec­og­nized the longterm con­se­quences of be­ing sex­u­ally abused as a child.”

The civil suit also named sev­eral ath­letic or­ga­ni­za­tions in­volved in the girls’ com­pe­ti­tions for fail­ing to pro­tect them. The Olympic­cal­iber ath­letes com­peted in tour­na­ments associated with the U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee and USA Taek­wondo. The women have ap-

pealed a Su­pe­rior Court de­ci­sion to dis­miss claims against the USOC and USA Taek­wondo, Estey said.

“They should have had poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in place to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing,” Estey said. The at­tor­ney said his client stayed on the same floor as her coach at a train­ing fa­cil­ity’s dorms. “They did not have any chap­er­one poli­cies in place, and Gitel­man would take th­ese girls to th­ese tour­na­ments.… It was a free for all.”

An at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the USOC de­clined to comment.

Gitel­man in­structed stu­dents at com­mu­nity cen­ters in the Las Ve­gas area as well as at the Univer­sity of Nevada, Las Ve­gas, and trav­eled across Cal­i­for­nia and Nevada for taek­wondo tour­na­ments, ac­cord­ing to the Los Angeles County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

Doris Leroy, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Gitel­man in the criminal law­suit, said there were ev­i­den­tiary er­rors in the trial but de­clined to comment fur­ther.

The 2015 law­suit al­leges that Gitel­man forced one of the ath­letes to per­form oral sex while driv­ing her to a com­pe­ti­tion at the In­ter­na­tional Taek­wondo Fes­ti­val in Cal­i­for­nia in May 2008. When they ar­rived at their ho­tel, Gitel­man in­vited the ath­lete to his room to watch videos of her pre­vi­ous taek­wondo fights. He then gave her al­co­hol and mo­lested her, the law­suit al­leges.

In 2009, that ath­lete was mo­lested again at the Olympic Train­ing Cen­ter dorms in Colorado Springs, Colo., the law­suit states.

It also de­scribes an event in March 2010 spon­sored by the Olympic Com­mit­tee, among other or­ga­ni­za­tions, at which Gitel­man in­vited two of the plain­tiffs to his ho­tel room, where they played a drink­ing game. While one of the plain­tiffs lay on his bed in­tox­i­cated, the other plain­tiff saw him in­ap­pro­pri­ately touch her.

Af­ter help­ing the in­tox­i­cated ath­lete find her way back to her ho­tel room, the other plain­tiff re­turned to Gitel­man’s room, where he served her more al­co­hol. The law­suit al­leges that he then forced her to lie on his bed, where he sex­u­ally abused her.

Two of the girls lodged a com­plaint in early 2014 with USA Taek­wondo, the gov­ern­ing body over­see­ing the sport in the U.S. Shortly af­ter, those girls and a third vic­tim came for­ward and in­formed po­lice of the abuse.

Ken­dra Gatt, 23, one of the plain­tiffs, said the judg­ment marks a step for­ward.

“I feel like I lost my time and en­ergy, and my men­tal health was di­rected in a dif­fer­ent way through­out the years at the trial, criminal [case] and mov­ing into civil,” Gatt said in an in­ter­view.

She be­gan taek­wondo at age 11 and as­pired to try out for the Olympic team. She didn’t tell her par­ents about be­ing abused for two years and did so only af­ter see­ing a Face­book post from another plain­tiff who de­scribed be­ing in an “odd predica­ment” with her taek­wondo coach.

“When I dis­cov­ered that I wasn’t the only one that it hap­pened to, I put some pieces to­gether and re­al­ized I wasn’t go­ing to be the last ei­ther,” she said. “I de­cided to voice what hap­pened to me be­cause I never wanted it to hap­pen to any other girl or ath­lete in gen­eral.”

The law­suit said that Gitel­man “did not at­tempt to hide his re­la­tion­ships with the var­i­ous plain­tiffs” and that the de­fen­dants “were aware that fe­male taek­wondo ath­letes, and Olympic level ath­letes in gen­eral were fre­quently vic­tims of sex­ual mo­lesta­tion by their coaches yet did noth­ing to pro­tect th­ese ath­letes from such abuse.”

Al­though one of the plain­tiffs op­er­ates a taek­wondo stu­dio in Las Ve­gas, two of them, Estey said, no longer prac­tice taek­wondo.

Gatt is cur­rently a bi­ol­ogy stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Nevada, Las Ve­gas. Af­ter she stopped train­ing with Gitel­man at age 16, she said she didn’t want to con­tinue prac­tic­ing mar­tial arts.

“I couldn’t as a 16-yearold come to terms with my feel­ing of what was hap­pen­ing,” she said. “I tried again with a dif­fer­ent in­struc­tor months later and I just didn’t feel the same. I kind of lost a lit­tle pas­sion in it.”

Associated Press

MARC GITEL­MAN was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing the women from 2007 to ’14.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.