#childpredator | Marin victim of coach’s sexual abuse speaks out to erase stigma

Stevie Gould stepped on the gas and ran a red light, anxiously staring into his rearview mirror at the coach who had sexually abused him for years, his car in close pursuit.

Marin’s top high school tennis recruit had spent three months working with law enforcement to secretly record youth coach Normandie Burgos admitting to molesting his students. Gould finally coaxed a confession from Burgos near the Richmond condo complex where the abuse occurred, but his former private trainer grew suspicious after their police-coordinated meeting ended abruptly.

Now the sting operation was accelerating into a car chase, and the Redwood High School sophomore didn’t even have his license yet.

As officers gave directions through a wire, Gould navigated the streets of Richmond with Burgos on his tail, ultimately running the red light to create enough separation for police to make an arrest. Watching from across the intersection, Gould felt a complicated shade of pride for helping to take his abuser down.

At last August’s sentencing, it took an hour to read Burgos’ convictions: 60 charges of child molestation totaling 255 years in prison.

While the hefty sentence marked a victory, Gould’s fight is far from over. A few months ago, Gould filed a lawsuit against the United States Tennis Association aiming to hold the organization accountable for an alleged lack of oversight.

“What I endured will always be a part of who I am,” Gould said. “There’s no escaping that. So instead of running from that, I’ve decided to face it head on.”

Perhaps the most difficult truth to confront is that Gould never should have been forced to take matters into his own hands.

Long road to justice

A decade before Gould’s sting operation, Tamalpais High School fired Burgos amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving five students. He was brought to trial in 2010 on two charges of sexual battery but, backed by a vocal tennis community that lent its support, Burgos avoided conviction after the jury deadlocked.

Despite having his California teaching credential permanently revoked the following year, Burgos earned approval as a USTA coach, advertising himself as “certified as a trainer at the highest levels.” Unaware of the controversy’s severity, Gould started training at the Burgos Tennis Foundation clinic in May 2012.

At his Sausalito academy, Burgos groomed top prospects and potential victims by offering free tennis shoes, rackets and lessons. Gould was one of those kids, and once the abuse began, it occurred countless times over nearly two years, Gould says.

The turning point came when he told his parents about what happened.

“The first step was by far and away the hardest,” Gould said. “It’s obviously a lot for someone to hear, especially a parent, but I received such strength, support and love from my parents immediately. That gave me the strength to believe in other people and to know that other people are going to hear my story and aren’t going to be scared off by it.”

He also realized exactly what was at stake. Gould had recently witnessed Burgos isolate another vulnerable student, showering him with gifts and attention in an eerily familiar fashion to his own grooming. So he went forward to the police.

Under the guidance of Richmond Lt. Matt Stonebraker, Gould agreed to rekindle a convincing relationship with his abuser in order to obtain incriminating evidence.

“I have never been a good liar,” Gould said. “For some reason, when the sting operation got underway and I was having to go against everything I felt strongly about going back to talking to that man, driving to both of the meetings, there was just something that came over me and I think I really kept picturing that child who could very well be getting hurt right now. I didn’t want to be too late to help him and to get justice for the others who had been hurt before me.”

The first secretly-recorded meeting between Gould and Burgos featured undercover officers playing tennis on public Sausalito courts and hiding in the surrounding bushes. Gould induced an admission from Burgos, but the wary coach blasted music to mask his voice or wrote down potentially incriminating responses to spoil any clear statements of guilt on tape.

At the second meeting, Gould eventually got the evidence he had been working toward. But as they parted ways, Burgos demanded Gould get into his car and drive back to his nearby condo complex. Gould refused, returning to his own car and sparking the chase that culminated in Burgos’ arrest.

“I’m frankly very proud of being able to stand up against him and to do what a lot of people couldn’t do: compile sufficient evidence to be able to put him away for good,” Gould said. “The whole process was extremely scary and it has certainly messed with my head for a long time.”

New love for tennis

Gould was shouldering a heavy burden balancing the investigation with a stressful Division I recruiting process. And after Burgos was arrested in 2017 — just three months before Gould committed to the University of Washington — the 16-year-old also had to worry about blowback from the local tennis community.

“It was absolutely difficult to come forward knowing that the last time someone came forward, very few people believed him,” Gould said. “So that was really tough because I knew that was a possibility. Luckily I found people at the California Tennis Club who took me in, took my side and helped me grow from it.”

The California Tennis Club in San Francisco provided a much-needed safe space where Gould could train in the wake of traumatic events. Gould joined his childhood friend, Tamalpais High School standout Ryan Ali, in his first true team setting with caring coaches.

“I take it really personally because this was happening in my area,” said California Tennis Club coach Pablo Pires de Almeida, who had heard early whispers of Burgos’ misconduct while playing for Drake High. “Stevie was the true leader and the one that made this happen, that brought him down and showed people the truth.”

“I don’t know how many kids he saved because (Burgos) was just going and grooming the next one and the next one,” added Steve Jackson, director of the California Tennis Club. “Stevie’s a hero, really.”

Gould’s connection with his new club team went past training — it became healing. Tennis turned fun again.

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