As the basketball season ramps up this week at Federal Way High School and the program scrambles in the wake of the head coach’s administrative leave over an alleged voyeurism scandal, a second woman is speaking out against a former basketball player who she claims filmed her during a sexual encounter.
The suspect allegedly filmed former student Gwen Gabert while she performed a sex act with him, and on a separate occasion he hid in a closet and filmed another former student, Tally Thomas, during her sexual encounter with another basketball player, the women claim.
Federal Way detectives, who filed the case with the King County Prosecutor’s Office on Nov. 9, are recommending that prosecutors charge the suspect with two counts of voyeurism.
“I would never have been able to share my story if you didn’t share your story,” Gabert told Thomas before hugging her during a dual interview with the Mirror on Tuesday afternoon at their attorney Joan Mell’s law office in Fircrest. “The second I found out I was like ‘Tally I support you.’ I am so glad you said something.”
Thomas came forward when she filed a tort claim against Federal Way Public Schools in October for $3.5 million. She claimed the suspect videotaped her against her will, and also alleged that the school’s head basketball coach, Jerome Collins, was aware of this incident, had watched the video in question and failed to report the situation to authorities. The school district subsequently placed Collins on paid administrative leave.
During the interview with the Mirror, Gabert, now 20 years old, recounted the incident and how it has impacted her life.
On the day of her 18th birthday on Jan. 26, 2016, she had a sexual encounter with the suspect after school in a car. Then she went to the school’s senior night where she met up with him.
“And I bought him a Gatorade, and a balloon and a piece of candy and was like … I like him and I’m going to support him and be nice to him,” Gabert recalled, noting that by that point the suspect had “probably sent [the video] to all of his friends, all of the basketball players … and I was just this joke on the sidelines, like everyone thought I was just this whore and I was trying to be supportive and nice and that just speaks to my character …”
She found out about the alleged video approximately two weeks later, around the same time when Thomas discovered a similar incident had allegedly happened to her.
“So two weeks later would’ve been when you were finding out, which is crazy,” Gabert said to Thomas. “Maybe [the videos] got sent around at the same time.”
A male student had notified Gabert that there was a video of her circulating via a group chat.
“I just kept getting messages from guys about a video,” Gabert recalled.
She said she “had no idea” the suspect allegedly recorded their encounter.
“I trusted him, which was so stupid of me,” she said as she cried and apologized for the many sensitive details she relayed. She added she was unaware that the suspect was allegedly filming her.
She didn’t report the incident to police until a month later because she was “trying to forgive him and I didn’t want to ruin his life. I didn’t want to ruin his potential. I didn’t want to do something that would hurt his life.”
Thomas, now age 19, was 17 when the alleged voyeurism incident happened to her but she couldn’t recall the exact date it happened. She found out about it on her 18th birthday, Feb. 13, 2016 — the week before the basketball state championships. She said guys at school were “saying stuff” about the video so she told her dad, who had a meeting with the two boys and coach Collins. The following day she had a meeting with the boys and Collins.
“So what happened in my meeting with the coach was he tried to tell me that he was going to have the two boys just not play at state,” Thomas recalled. “And I was like please, in God’s name do not do that because if they don’t win the state championship when they’re supposed to, everybody at school is going to blame me. So let’s not do that.”
She said it felt “very much so” like the coach guilted her into acquiescing.
“In the meeting [the suspect] the entire time was kind of laughing about it. And it made me really, really upset and uncomfortable,” Thomas noted. “The other boy was crying and apologizing and felt awful about it, so that was pretty normal. But [the suspect] was just kind of smirking.”
She said coach Collins seemed “more like, ‘let’s try to figure this out and get this out of the way so that we don’t have to deal with it anymore.’”
Thomas added that some of the other basketball coaches “definitely knew” about the video, as “other boys on the team let me know.”
Collins told the Mirror that he would “love to comment, but [since] this is an ongoing investigation, I’m advised not to make any comments at this time.”
This is how both Gabert and Thomas described how they felt after they found out about the alleged videos.
“It makes me feel completely worthless … What was worth something to me wasn’t worth something to you and that’s what hurts so bad,” Thomas said about the alleged exploitation of an intimate moment. “What was something so personal and private to me was a joke to you.”
They also felt like they were to blame.
“For me, it wasn’t even so much like this person did something wrong — I felt I did something wrong,” Gabert said, noting this is a huge reason why she didn’t tell her parents or report the incident right away. “I felt like doing sexual things with [the suspect] made me a whore and I was ashamed for it. Then I was so ashamed that everyone could see it and it was like proof, oh, I’m this whore.”
“Very much so,” Thomas agreed. She added the student she had a sexual encounter with also had a longtime girlfriend at the time, “so I felt even more like I had done something wrong and that I was some sort of major whore because even though I was single at the time, and he was the one in the relationship, I felt like it was still my fault and I had done something wrong.”
Peers would constantly harass the women around school by making crude noises or sexual hand gestures after the alleged videos were spread, the women agreed.
The alleged videos also circulated much further than a single group chat, the women told the Mirror.
When Thomas made it to the state wrestling meet in February 2016, people from other schools approached her and mentioned they saw the video — harassment that cast a shadow over her triumph of winning a state title, she said.
And no one stood up for them, they said.
“None of them came forward and stood up for me because all of them said ‘I don’t want to get involved, I don’t want to hurt his potential, I don’t want to take away his scholarship, he has so much potential so I don’t want to be the reason why,’” Gabert listed the reasons people denied her requests for help. “I remember the first person that said that to me, I was just like ‘Well what about my future, what about my life?’ And I think from then, that’s when it was like well [the suspect] is this amazing person and I am worthless and my life doesn’t matter.”
Both women said the feeling of worthlessness incited them to engage in self-harming behavior for the remainder of high school and into college. During her freshman year at Stanford University, Thomas attempted to end her life with pills in November 2017.
“I just kept thinking about the video, and I just kept thinking about the fact that guys don’t really care about me,” Thomas recalled.
Gabert, who played soccer at Tacoma Community College and got a bad concussion in October, told her parents she needed mental help with her depression, anxiety and eating disorder. She received mental health treatment at an in-patient program, and during a gap in treatment she attempted suicide twice in March and April 2017.
“It just felt like nobody would notice if I was here or not,” Gabert said, noting that before she began treatment she found out that the Federal Way Police Department couldn’t move forward with the case, which made her feel like even the police “failed” her.
According to Federal Way police, the detective was unable to establish probable cause to support the women’s allegations and closed the case in 2016. Police reopened the case on Oct. 18 after police spoke with “cooperating witnesses,” Commander Kurt Schwan previously told the Mirror.
‘Every system failed these women’
Neither woman reported the case immediately in fear of the repercussion it may have on teachers, peers and the community, Gabert and Thomas told the Mirror.
“It speaks of Tally and I, of putting other people before ourselves,” Gabert said, her voice breaking as tears came to her eyes.
She turned to Thomas and said, “You didn’t want to want to hurt the teachers, even though you [were] a minor and they were in the wrong. They shouldn’t have done that. You were protecting them and they weren’t protecting you.”
In a world where a multitude of procedures are in place to prevent this type of incident, every system failed these women, said their attorney Mell.
“You were the ones being the adults and trying to navigate this universe of systems that most people don’t understand even as adults,” Mell said. “Here you guys are being adults trying to stand up for yourselves and your voices are sort of being shuffled off to the side.
“You’re the ones the systems are set up to protect, but you guys had to grow up really fast and you had to develop a sense of self when your image and personality had been co-opted and put out there in a way you never consented to. That’s why we have laws around privacy … that was stolen from you for forever.”
There’s also a certain strike of betrayal from the staff and teachers of Federal Way High School, Gabert said.
“Seeing the staff and thinking not one of you tried to help me … you picked the athlete.”
Gabert said she wants to sit down with the FWHS basketball coaches to let them know how the suspect allegedly hurt the two women. They also had messages for Collins.
“I just want to ask why this wasn’t so serious to him? Why [didn’t he] take it so seriously?” Thomas said she wanted to ask the coach.
“We have worth — everyone has worth,” Gabert said she wanted to tell Collins. “Why would you think that they are worth any more than Tally, and I want his real answer. And actually, what if this had happened to his daughter …?”
Gabert added that if Collins would’ve reported the alleged incident, it may have helped her when she reported what she claims happened to her.
Mell said the alleged incident involving Thomas is the result of a reproduction of negative morals by the coaching staff.
“There are young men who are not doing this and they’re competitive and they’re successful,” Mell said. “Jerome Collins is breeding an environment and promoting young men to discredit women. He discredits them. [The suspect] discredits them and it’s allowed to occur there. That is not our society … These women have equal if not more value than they do in terms of their contribution to our society.”
Eagle pride runs deep for alumni of Federal Way High School, but pride shouldn’t forfeit protection, Gabert said.
“I don’t want to see Federal Way have this reputation or have to go through this, but that’s our home and we weren’t safe,” she said.
Kassie Swenson, the district’s chief of communications and strategy, said in an email, “Although we can’t speak to the specific case due to the ongoing investigation, we are committed to a safe and welcoming environment for every student who attends Federal Way Public Schools.”
Swenson noted that assistant coaches Yattah Reed and Quinn Gillis are leading the FWHS basketball team in Collins’s absence this season. Regarding Collins’s administrative leave, she said the district doesn’t pre-determine a specific timeline for leave of absences with their employees “in order to conduct a thorough investigation.”
“We focus on a thorough and timely process,” Swenson said, noting the decision of whether Collins can start coaching again will be based on whether or not he violated law or district policy.
“The district is currently conducting its own investigation to determine if policies were followed,” she said, adding that the district has engaged with a third party to conduct the investigation.
When asked whether the police department notified the district of the women’s claims in 2016, Swenson commented via email that the district is “currently investigating all details of this matter and [is] unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.”
As the two women wait to see whether charges will be filed against the suspect, and watch to see how Thomas’s tort claim goes, they said monetary assets and discipline by the courts still won’t erase their traumatic experiences.
“Nothing can bring us back, nothing can take the pain away, nothing is equal to that,” she said. “I’ve had girls come to me and say ‘Don’t you think this is so much money?’ and I’m like OK well, tell me the right amount of money that is equal to this. Because no money, no jail, nothing comes close to getting justice. Nothing would make it so that they experience the kind of trauma and PTSD that we have experienced from it.”
Both women, who have not seen the alleged videos, said the suspect has not apologized for the alleged incidents.
“Even to this day — still no sorry,” Thomas said.
“I have scars on my body that will be there forever. I’m on the news and told my story, so my future husband, my future kids, my future job … everyone can see that and I’m exposed all over again,” Gabert said. “Yes, it was my choice [to share] but I did not choose this and his actions.”
She added she wants the suspect’s future family to know about this.
“I want him to hear me.”
Mell said she may file a second tort claim against the district on Gabert’s behalf, but they are waiting to see how the criminal case plays out. But this isn’t about filing a civil lawsuit or winning money for her clients, she said.
Both of these women came to her with one specific purpose: “It was: We need to be heard. We want to be heard.”