In video of police interview, accused says his intent with victim was not sexual
Arrested and charged, former national gymnastics coach David Brubaker sat across from a Sarnia police officer in a sterile interview room trying to come to terms with his disgraced future. But, even after more than an hour of questioning from an officer who had his own conflicts in the case, Brubaker never wavered from one crucial fact.
“I will die knowing that my intentions were never sexual or that my intentions were never to make her feel uncomfortable,” the 55-yearold former executive director of Bluewater Gymnastics told the officer in a videotaped interview about the gymnast complainant in the historical sexual assault case. On the second day of the trial of the high-profile Sarnian, it became more apparent the case is complicated.
At issue, beyond Brubaker’s guilt or innocence, is the close relationships in the gymnastics world between coaches and athletes, the affects of the #MeToo movement in helping potential victims come forward and the conduct of a police officer who didn’t think his close family relationship to the complainant affected the investigation. When the case returns on Dec. 13, the court will hear testimony from Brubaker when he is called as the first witness for the defence. Brubaker and his wife, Liz, coached the gymnast to a national level from the time she was 12 until she was 19.
Their relationship was so close the teenager moved to Burlington with the Brubaker family for two years to train, and continued with a rigorous 25-hour-a week training schedule once she returned to Sarnia.
The complainant has testified Brubaker would kiss her on the lips, drop off and pick up the girl at school, invite her to take naps with him, tickle her belly when they laid together in bed and give her therapeutic massages for her numerous injuries that were close to her private areas.
The Brubakers, who ended up coaching at the Olympic team, were in full control of their proteges including what they ate, how much sleep they got and how they dressed, court was told. Ontario Court Justice Deborah Austin must first decide whether she believes the hour-long videotaped police interview with Brubaker was voluntary and if it will be evidence at the trial. The second part of the video interview on Dec. 14, 2017, was played in court, where the officer, who can’t be identified to protect the complainant, uses various strategies to get Brubaker to confess.
Throughout, Brubaker can’t hide his fear about jail, publicity and how he would be treated in his community. While he admitted to touching the complainant, he remained steadfast he never thought of her or other gymnasts in a sexual way.
The officer told Brubaker the complainant and another gymnast were in counselling for what happened and the complainant “hates her life.”
“I absolutely love these girls. I love these families,” he said. “They were like my daughters. This was not sexual in any way.”
The officer told Brubaker his coaching career was over, his wife was disappointed and only he could spare the girls from testifying by confessing. During the interview, the officer had photos of the complainant’s 18th birthday party, thrown by Brubaker and his wife.
“I would never, ever do anything like that to hurt these girls in a sexual way,” Brubaker said. But it appears Brubaker knew there was a possibility he would be investigated. Both he and his wife had discussed “what’s happening in social media” — the #MeToo movement where women have spoken out about sexual abuses — and pointed to the arrests of Montreal gymnastics coach Michel Arsenault on sex charges and the prosecution of Michigan State team doctor Larry Nasser as examples.
“I just want them to be healthy and happy and enjoy their families,” he said. “They mean a lot to us. I never imagined any of that would affect them in a negative way.”
The complainant was part of their family, he said. He thought he was helping her.
“I can see by today’s measuring stick that was different.”
The police officer suggested there were up to three complainants, although later, once he heard Brubaker’s explanation, concentrated on two. He said “a judge wouldn’t like it” if Brubaker made the girls testify.
And, at his urging and suggestion, he got Brubaker to write a letter of apology to the two gymnasts they were discussing and to his wife. In it, Brubaker never claimed any sexual misconduct. Brubaker told the officer after Arsenault’s arrest, he and his wife “reflected on a lot of things” and how “the whole sport had to make changes … There are a lot of guilty coaches out there.”
“It happened in hockey, it happened in taekwondo, it happened in schools,” he said.
Once the recordings were played, defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme began an intense cross-examination of the officer that zeroed in on his close relationship to the complainant who is a cousin to his wife. The officer kept referring to the complainant as “the victim.” Ducharme called her “your family member” in each question he asked.
The officer was the best man at the complainant’s wedding and he and his wife chose the complainant to be the godmother of their child. Yet the officer didn’t see this as an issue in the investigation. “She’s a victim in a case I’m investigating,” he said.
The 10-year veteran took the initial call on Oct. 19, 2017, from a former gymnast in Calgary who disclosed her concerns about Brubaker’s conduct, particularly with the complainant.
The officer said he told his superiors and, once Brubaker was charged, Lambton County Crown attorney David Rows and another assistant Crown attorney that he knew the complainant. But he never told them he was in the woman’s wedding party or she had helped his family move into their home. And there’s nothing about it in his notes.
Ducharme pointed out Rows said he did not know of the family relationship until last week. He didn’t tell Brubaker he was a relative because “for officer safety” he doesn’t disclose personal details about his life and he didn’t want Brubaker to feel forced into a confession knowing he was a family member. Ducharme kept suggesting the officer was offside in revealing details of the investigation to the complainant, including telling her Brubaker would be arrested before Christmas and reading Brubaker’s letter of apology to her the same night of his arrest.
The officer said the women had “super high anxiety” and “I thought, the letter is ambiguous, but it will provide some comfort.” Ducharme said the officer was trying to scare and intimidate Brubaker into a confession during the interview. He suggested the officer searched Brubaker’s phone without a warrant before putting it in a secured police locker. The officer denied all of Ducharme’s claims.
The trial is on a break until Dec. 13 and 14. Both the Crown and the defence are giving the judge written submissions on the admissibility of the police interview. Along with Brubaker’s testimony, Ducharme indicated he will be calling an expert witness in sports sciences, biophysics repair and sports injury-related issues at the next court date.
I just want them to be healthy and happy and enjoy their families. I never imagined any of that would affect them in a negative way.
By JANE SIMS