The lawsuit claims Federal Way HS basketball coach Jerome Collins knew about the incident and illegally tried to keep it under wraps. Suit also alleges McDaniels’ college coach at San Diego State University hindered a potential criminal case against him.
It purportedly started with an after-school tryst between the high school basketball star and a birthday girl turning 18, followed by a few more casual hookups in January 2016 between the two consenting Federal Way High School students.
But all the while, Gwen Gabert had no clue that her classmate, Jalen McDaniels — a standout player with NBA aspirations — allegedly had been secretly videotaping their sexual encounters and later sharing the images with his teammates.
Now, nearly three years later, Gabert’s accusations against McDaniels — spelled out in an invasion of privacy lawsuit filed in Seattle this week — go beyond implicating her former classmate for his alleged exploitation of her. Her lawsuit also claims Federal Way High School’s basketball coach, Jerome Collins, illegally tried to keep secret another incident in which his top player allegedly videotaped a different teenage girl having sex with a teammate during the team’s 2016 state championship run.
And, according to the suit, the matter even followed McDaniels to college: Gabert claims police and athletic officials at San Diego State University, where McDaniels now stars, failed to properly assist a Federal Way police investigation by alerting his college’s team’s coach, who in turn tipped off the student-athlete and hindered a potential criminal case against him.
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“The fact that McDaniels refused to cooperate and that others concealed his wrongdoing prevented prompt criminal investigation and referral to the prosecutors office for timely filing of charges under Washington’s criminal offense of distribution of intimate images,” according to Gabert’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court.
King County prosecutors have reviewed a criminal voyeurism case, but declined to file criminal charges against McDaniels. A spokeswoman for the prosecutors’ office said Thursday a “decline memo” that explains in writing why charges would not be filed was still being drafted and had yet to be made publicly available.
A spokesman for the university did not return a voice message Thursday. Noting charges had not been filed, a statement previously issued by the university said there would be “no changes in (McDaniels’) status at the University.”
The Seattle Times generally does not name victims of alleged sex crimes, but both women have publicly come forward with their allegations.
Jeremy Warren, McDaniels’ San Diego-based attorney, added Thursday his client, now 20, is taking the matter seriously while “trying to be the best person he can be.”
“These alleged incidents took place a long time ago when Mr. McDaniels was in high school,” Warren said. “It’s unfortunate that they weren’t fully addressed back then. Jalen is not going to litigate this case in the press, but he will respond appropriately through the court system.”
Gabert’s 10-page complaint may be only the beginning of legal actions facing McDaniels and others. Joan Mell, her Fircrest-based attorney, said Thursday she also represents Tally Thomas, the other former Federal Way High classmate who McDaniels allegedly secretly videotaped.
Thomas also plans to sue McDaniels — as well as Collins and the Federal Way School District, Mell said. Mell’s firm is also now working with attorneys in California to bring a legal claim against San Diego State University for negligence, she said.
According to a $3.5 million tort claim filed with the school district in October, McDaniels hid in a closet and used his phone to tape Thomas while she performed a sex act on “McDaniels’ teammate without her knowledge or consent.”
Thomas, a standout wrestler and softball player who had earned a scholarship to play softball at Stanford University, “was a minor at the time,” her tort claim added. “McDaniels shared this unauthorized sex video among the basketball team via group chat and with his coaches to include head coach Jerome Collins, who also viewed the child pornography in violation of Ms. Thomas’ privacy and other rights.”
The claim contends Collins didn’t report the matter to police, as is mandatory, but instead encouraged Thomas to “accept a feeble apology so as to avoid any disruption to the imminent state basketball tournament that Federal Way expected to win with McDaniels in the game.”
Kassie Swenson, a spokeswoman for the Federal Way School District, said the district only became aware of the allegations after Thomas filed her claim in October, and immediately launched an investigation.
“That investigation remains underway,” Swenson said Thursday.
Collins has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard during such an investigation. Reached by phone Thursday, he declined to comment.
Gabert’s complaint states that after McDaniels disseminated video of the two of them having sex without her consent or knowledge, other students began sharing the images and “deriding and tormenting” her about them. When Gabert confronted McDaniels, he allegedly admitted to what he did, but pleaded that he didn’t want to get in trouble and told he’d previously avoided trouble after taping Thomas. Gabert ultimately reported the matter to Federal Way police in April 2016.
Five months later, in September 2016, a Federal Way police detective contacted San Diego State University’s police department, asking a detective there to secure McDaniels’ telephone as part of a criminal investigation, according to Gabert’s lawsuit. Instead, a university detective took the request to her superiors, who in turn decided to contact McDaniels’ then-head coach, Steve Fisher, to “request to set up a meeting/interview with McDaniels,” according to an email sent by the university police detective to Federal Way.
“This would be through athletic department,” the detective’s email added. “They feel this will be the best route to take due to the nature/politics involved.”
McDaniels’ phone wasn’t secured, and Fisher “found a lawyer for McDaniels” who then refused to cooperate with the investigation, Gabert’s suit says. McDaniels “likely destroyed evidence” relevant to the allegations after being tipped off, the suit adds.
The alleged exploitation of both Gabert and Thomas has caused both women to “spiral downward,” Mell said. Both women have suffered ridicule, humiliation and emotional trauma.
Thomas, now 19, experienced bullying so severe that she withdrew midway through her senior year in high school, with distress further preventing her from “fulfilling her hard earned dream of attending Stanford,” according to her tort claim. Likewise, Gabert, now 20, has suffered physically and emotionally, fell behind in her college studies and has attempted suicide.
Meantime, McDaniels, a 6-foot-10 power forward and the second-leading scorer on his team, has since seen his professional prospects rise and reportedly is eyeing leaving college early for next year’s NBA draft.