Before McKayla and Gabby and Jordyn.
Before golden triumphs in London and Rio de Janeiro secured Team USA’s dynasty status in the Summer Olympic women’s marquee sport, Don Peters coached the groundbreaking U.S. women’s team to a record eight medals at the 1984 Olympic Games and a performance that signaled the beginning of the end of Eastern Bloc countries’ decades long dominance of women’s gymnastics and the rise of a new global power.
Peters for the past decade, however, has become best known not for Team USA’s Olympic history but for his role in a darker chapter in American gymnastics history.
Peters was banned from the sport by USA Gymnastics for sexual misconduct in 2011 following an Orange County Register investigation and this week Doe Yamashiro, a former U.S. national team member, filed a suit against him in Orange County Superior Court that threatens to further tarnish his reputation.
Yamashiro alleges Peters repeatedly sexually abused her as a teenager in the 1980s. She also targets SCATS, the Huntington Beach and USA Gymnastics-member club Peters turned into an international powerhouse producing a string of Olympians and national champions, in the suit that alleges sexual assault, battery, and harassment, and negligent supervision, hiring/retention, to warn, train or educate, and gender violence, and fraud, according to a copy of the suit obtained by the Southern California News Group.
The American women’s eight total medals in Los Angeles were not surpassed by a U.S. women’s team at the Olympic Games until 2016. Four of the six members on the 1984 silver medal team trained under Peters at SCATS.
But the star of the 1984 team was Mary Lou Retton, the Olympic all-around champion and the Games’ transcendent star, trained by Bela Karolyi, Peters’ bitter coaching rival, and Karolyi’s wife Martha.
Peters was convinced that at SCATS he coached a young gymnast on the brink of becoming the next Mary Lou.
Her name was Doe Yamashiro.
“He took me aside and he grabbed my shoulders and he was shaking me and trying to shake it into me the words he was saying which were ‘You can beat Mary Lou,’” Yamashiro later recalled. “I think he was a little out of his mind with this idea. He had this vision of my career that was sort of distorted; and I think his vision was distorted.”
While injuries would prevent Yamashiro from reaching her full potential, she would nevertheless become an important figure in American gymnastics history.
Five years before the Larry Nassar scandal, Yamashiro told the Orange County Register in 2011 that Peters repeatedly fondled her, beginning when she was 16, and had sexual intercourse with her when she was 17. Yamashiro’s statements and similar allegations made by more than a dozen former gymnasts at Flairs, a Pasadena club, against Doug Boger, another U.S. national team coach, were seen by many in the sport as a red flag waving over a culture of abuse within USA Gymnastics that enabled the sexual and physical abuse of young athletes.
But the revelations by Yamishiro and the other women were not enough to prompt then USA Gymnastics chief executive Steve Penny and chairman Peter Vidmar to enact policies that effectively address the problem or launch an investigation to determine the extent of the problem.
“Every one of the victims who have come forward in the wake of Larry Nassar stands on the shoulders of Doe and the Flairs women,” said John Manly, a Yamashiro attorney who also represents more than 100 Nassar survivors. “Because they laid the ground work.
“Doe doesn’t like to hear this but she is a hero. But for her having the courage to speak up and those other women in 2011, I don’t think that Nassar ever would have happened because that was the starting point for all this.”
The lawsuit, filed under a 2019 California law that allows sexual abuse victims to finally confront in court their abusers and the organizations that protected predators, is Yamashiro’s latest attempt to hold Peters and her sport accountable.
“I think part of this process is to hold myself accountable,” Yamashiro said in an interview with SCNG this week. “I’m one of the lucky ones to find the strength to speak a little bit.
“When you have a system that’s broken, with broken policies and broken practices, there’s a little bit of momentum and I think It’s imperative to figure out some way to put the brakes on that. To me this lawsuit is a little bit of that, you know, just making some of the victims’ stories a little more personal.
“One of the things that was taken from me personally was my first kiss and my virginity, not to mention the sexual violence that was added to my person and my soul. So if we think about what the cost of that is for a young woman or a child trying to move forward in their life, it’s much more damaging than I think we’ve taken account for.”
Assembly Bill 218, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 and went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, created a three-year window to file past claims that had expired under the statute of limitations. The law, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), also extends the statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual abuse from the time a victim is age 26 to 40. The period for delayed reasonable discovery is also increased from three to five years.
“But for this statutory window, Doe could not have filed the lawsuit,” Manly said. “This is an example of why windows are important and how that institution effectively made promises to her and others about cleaning themselves up and it was all window dressing and then let the statute lapse.”
Plaintiffs filing suit under the law are not allowed to use the names of defendants in court filings until a judge issues a certificate of merit on the allegations, normally a procedural formality. Yet while the initial filing does not use SCATS and Peters’ names it is clear by the document’s descriptions that Doe 1 is the gymnastics club and Doe 2 is its former coach and director. Alex Cunny, an attorney for Yamashiro, also confirmed that SCATS is Doe 1 and Peters is Doe 2.
The suit also names Does 3 through 50 as defendants, raising the possibility that USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and their officers and employees could also be sued.
USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 protection in December 2018 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Indiana. The filing triggered an automatic freeze on all litigation against the Indianapolis-based national governing body.
The suit alleges Yamashiro was “was sexually abused, harassed, and violated as a minor” by Peters.
The values set forth by SCATS “who had a legal, moral and ethical duty to protect (Yamashiro), were compromised and ignored, in allowing (Peters) to access (Yamashiro) (as well as other gymnasts) physically, sexually, and without abatement,” according to the suit.
SCATs, the suit continues, “was operated as a facility solely motivated to cull talent for USAG and the USAG National Team, at all costs and irrespective of the emotional toll taken on minors in its custody, care, and under its control. (SCATS) and its agents, employees, officers, and directors fueled an abusive, harassing, and degrading environment, intentioned at hardening and desensitizing the most elite gymnasts, in order to compete at a National Level with USAG, under (Peters) instruction.
“This environment created by (SCATS) was done so, in order to create elite gymnasts who would gain National and International notoriety in the sports world, such that (SCATS) reputation as a gym creating National and Olympic level gymnasts would be elevated, and ultimately, (Peters) would benefit financially from this reputation. It was this environment that allowed, concealed, and promoted the abusive behavior of Defendants (SCATS and Peters) and DOES 3 through 50, and their employees, agents, servants, officers, and/or directors, which was directed at minor gymnasts, including (Yamashiro).”
Under USA Gymnastics rules, member clubs and registered businesses agree “not to employ, or use as a volunteer, anyone who is on the ‘permanently ineligible list.’”
But despite his 2011 ban, Peters continued to oversee SCATS investments, was listed as SCATS president and a “key employee” on financial documents, has made appearances at the SCATS facility and has charged meals on SCATS credit cards, a 2017 Orange County Register investigation found.
Both before and after his expulsion, Peters routinely used SCATS credit cards and checking accounts for his personal benefit, according to documents obtained by the Register that included IRS and California Department of Justice filings; credit card, bank and online trading statements; billing invoices; and memos from former employees.
Both Peters and his son, David N. Peters, who replaced his father as SCATS executive, denied in statements to the Register in 2017 that Don Peters had any association with SCATS.
Don and David Peters did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to Yamashiro, a second former SCATS gymnast told the Register in 2011 that Peters had sexual intercourse with her when she was 18. The woman said she had earlier been sexually abused by her father, abuse that Peters was aware of, she said. The woman provided the Register with a signed and sworn declaration attesting to the truth of her story, as did Yamashiro.
Linda McNamara, a former assistant director at SCATS who shared an office with Peters, has also told the Register that Peters confessed to her in the early 1990s to having sex with Yamashiro, the second former SCATS gymnast and a third teenage gymnast.Yamashiro told the Register that Peters first allegedly sexually assaulted her on a 1986 U.S. national team trip.
“He asked to speak with me in his hotel room and he locked the door behind us,” she said. “And then he began groping me.
“And that was the worst; that was really the worst of it because I had never been kissed by a boy, and I wasn’t even interested in boys at that point. I didn’t have breasts. I was totally pre-pubescent at 16. And, you know, if you spend your life in the gym, you’re totally emotionally naive.”
Peters, Yamashiro told the newspaper, continued to grope, fondle, kiss and harass her. During the summer of 1987, Yamashiro said, Peters had sexual intercourse with her in the parking lot of the Huntington Beach library. She was 17. Peters was 38.
“That incident I had a very strong emotional reaction to,” she told the Register. “That was a real physical violation and I was disgusted. I was disgusted at him and myself. And that’s it. I was in pain and I had just lost my virginity. And then I had to go to workout.”