SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — It was late in an extended, agonizing day of testimony, and the protection lawyer needed to know if the younger man on the witness stand felt ashamed after his highschool tennis coach gave him a therapeutic massage.
The 21-year-old witness was testifying as John Doe to guard his identification. He stated he was extra embarrassed than ashamed. He by no means needed his coach to the touch him. He ought to have stated one thing.
“I really saw myself as wanting to be a leader,” stated Doe, three years out of highschool and wearing a go well with. “I was the team captain of the tennis team in my senior year. I had been an editor. …”
People within the gallery started to snicker.
“I’ll ask you to leave the courtroom if you cannot maintain your composure,” the decide warned.
Doe gathered himself. The individuals in courtroom had been his teammates and pals and their mother and father. Now they had been ridiculing him merely for saying what his coach had completed to him when he was a teenage boy.
When the courtroom quieted, he continued. “I feel that someone who’s a leader wouldn’t, you know, allow someone else to do something that they were uncomfortable with.”
The case resulted in a mistrial, and the coach was let loose. But John Doe would do not forget that day, would keep in mind the way it felt to inform the painful fact after which be cross-examined and mocked.
The Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, Calif., the place the primary trial was held.Credit…Marlena Sloss for The New York Times
More than a decade later, Doe is talking out once more, this time in his personal identify: Alexander Harrison.
In an interview close to his new job right here, and in cellphone interviews over the previous yr, Harrison, now 35, chronicled his journey: how his coach exploited him and crushed his spirit; how he misplaced religion in establishments; and the way he then turned to establishments to carry the coach accountable.
Now it’s Harrison who protects others.
‘A Fight for My Life’
Before he grew to become, like Lawrence G. Nassar, the usA. Gymnastics staff physician, a logo of the perniciousness of sexual abuse in youth sports activities, Normandie Burgos was a preferred coach and gymnasium instructor at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, Calif.
A former top-level junior faculty participant who boasted of his time taking part in tennis professionally in Australia, he emphasised intense conditioning and technique, typically recommending the guide “Winning Ugly,” by the tennis star Brad Gilbert. Parents lauded Burgos for reworking a middling squad right into a Marin County juggernaut whereas demanding good grades from his gamers.
Alex Harrison took up tennis in center college and shortly received so good that he was considered one of solely two freshmen to make the Tamalpais High School varsity squad. He typically performed first singles, wielding an enormous inside-out forehand and an all-court recreation modeled after Pete Sampras’s.
“Alex is always the first to arrive and the last to leave,” Burgos advised The San Francisco Chronicle in 2004. “We practice six days a week and we really work hard and he never complains.”
Harrison grew up in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge, the place the climate is right for tennis. His mom, a courtroom reporter, and father, an engineer, purchased him personal tennis classes with Burgos, and shortly he aspired to play in faculty.
When Harrison’s mother and father divorced, Burgos advised 14-year-old Alex he might open up to him, pal to pal. Gifts materialized: a windbreaker, a duplicate of “Winning Ugly” and, unexpectedly, some hair gel and hair spray. Harrison additionally obtained Wimbledon-like whites — polo shirts and shorts — so he might gown appropriately to hit with top-level gamers at personal golf equipment. Much later, Harrison would wonder if Burgos had been grooming him to make sure future cooperation and silence.
When Harrison harm his elbow and rotator cuff, Burgos repeatedly massaged the injured areas in his workplace close to the boys’ locker room. Harrison wore boxers, tennis shorts and a T-shirt despite the fact that Burgos stated it was regular for athletes to be bare throughout massages. Harrison grew to become uneasy when Burgos complimented his V-shaped stomach. And when Burgos requested him about his libido.
“I froze up and without thinking said it was fine — very flat, a one-word answer,” Harrison recalled.
The boys’ tennis staff pages in Alex Harrison’s Tamalpais High School yearbooks from 2001 and 2002. Burgos is seen on the higher proper.Credit…Marlena Sloss for The New York Times
Once, as Harrison lay face up on a bench, Burgos strapped a masks over his eyes, supposedly to assist him loosen up. In a report, a police investigator described what occurred subsequent, utilizing the identical pseudonym that Harrison would later use in courtroom: “Doe continued to explain to me that Burgos, in an attempt to rub his ‘tendons,’ would rub up against his ‘flaccid penis,’ which made Doe really uncomfortable.”
“I had a tremendous fear that he would just rape me, and I remember being afraid that it would be a fight for my life,” Harrison recalled. He was 5-foot-10 and 135 kilos. Burgos had 45 kilos on him.
A key started to unlock the door. Burgos tossed the masks inside a locker, then returned to a supine Harrison, simply as the college’s athletic director entered. Burgos claimed they had been stretching.
On different events, when Burgos touched Harrison in uncomfortable methods, Burgos would declare that he was simply measuring his physique fats, or massaging him in the way in which Sampras’s coach massaged him. Harrison felt powerless to name out Burgos’s lies.
“I’d have to put at risk having him as my coach, and I’d lose all of the connections he had with other coaches,” he later testified.
Harrison wanted these connections for school tennis, and didn’t need to wreck his teammates’ possibilities, both. Only later would Harrison perceive that victims at all times felt they’d causes to maintain their abuse secret.
From Shutting Down to Speaking Up
Harrison dedicated to play tennis on the University of Chicago. A recent begin, he hoped.
It didn’t work out that approach. After surpassing a four.zero grade-point common in highschool, he felt his motivation slipping. He misplaced his drive and not trusted authority figures.
“I’ve seen where that road takes me, and it’s horrible,” he stated.
Harrison’s persistent accidents worsened, and he began having nightmares about Burgos. Even watching tennis grew to become insufferable.
After his sophomore yr, he stop tennis and transferred to Claremont McKenna College. But Burgos’s transgressions stayed with him like a fever. He referred to as Tamalpais High School to warn them about Burgos, however it was closed for the summer season.
Harrison considered his brother, 10 years his junior, who had grow to be fascinated about tennis.
“If I’m worried about my brother, then what about everyone else’s brother, everyone else’s son?” he stated.
Finally, he discovered a solution to inform his secret: He advised his physician, and the physician knowledgeable the police. He then requested his divorced mother and father to fulfill — with out the youthful brother current.
When the Mill Valley police requested Harrison to jot down a press release, he took three days to compose his ideas. He parked on a random road, the automotive radio turned off, to keep away from any emotional triggers. Then he cried as he dedicated his story to 4 handwritten pages.
What occurred subsequent has troubled Harrison ever since. The police requested him to name Burgos, a typical tactic in sexual assault investigations, to see if he would admit to felony habits. They steered he lead Burgos on by saying he was now confused about his sexuality despite the fact that he knew he was straight.
Harrison, then 20, agreed to make the decision, however refused to lie. He prided himself on honesty. And he believed that in a battle for credibility with somebody as in style as Burgos, the reality was his finest weapon.
He made the decision from the police station on the night of Aug. 2, 2006, three years after the final of the touching incidents occurred.
The Mill Valley Police Department, the place Harrison first reported the sexual assault.Credit…Marlena Sloss for The New York Times
Harrison, nervous and confrontational, advised Burgos he had been “weirded out” by the massages and needed to know “what the hell was going on”: “I need to get this right now or I’m going to have to either talk to the school or talk to the police.”
Burgos steered assembly. Harrison refused. “I don’t wanna ever have contact with you again.”
Harrison talked about the time he and Burgos traveled to go to a school and Burgos booked them right into a room with one mattress. Harrison objected. Burgos stayed elsewhere, in response to the transcript of the decision.
“It boggles my mind that in all of that San Diego area that you can’t find one room with two beds,” Harrison stated.
Burgos appeared stunned.
“I don’t know how you can feel that way especially ’cause of those, all those years we spent together,” he stated.
Harrison continued. “I just feel like viol — I feel taken advantage of.”
“I totally love you,” Burgos responded. “Like you could be my son.”
Burgos was arrested two weeks later and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct and sexual battery. He was positioned on depart, and his instructing credentials had been later revoked.
‘These Are Not Stupid Parents’
Harrison skilled what he would later understand is a typical phenomenon: In instances involving an abuser who’s in style, the neighborhood typically sides with the abuser.
Months after Burgos’s arrest, the Tamalpais High School tennis staff, together with many mother and father, attended a preliminary listening to to assist him. The college students spent the morning absorbing the fees going through their coach, then trooped to the tennis courts and defeated their archrival within the county championship. Burgos even made it to the hardcourts — after his lengthy day as a defendant — to pose for staff pictures.
“They really played this one for Burgos — you can see how much they respect him,” Bill Washauer, an assistant to Burgos who had assumed the top teaching job, advised The Marin Independent Journal.
Burgos’s protection was that he was not a sexual abuser, however merely a homosexual man victimized by homophobia. Harrison had misunderstood Burgos’s intentions and overreacted. Besides, the protection steered, any touching was fleeting and unintentional.
Harrison, distraught at being perceived as homophobic or vindictive, emailed the gamers and oldsters who had packed the proceedings.
“I have no incentive to lie about what happened,” he wrote. “I hope that at the very least those of you reading this can accept the possibility that Burgos is not the great guy that many of you think he is.”
No one hit reply.
David Rabin, a Tamalpais High School tennis participant who graduated a yr forward of Harrison, stated Harrison was “excommunicated” — despite the fact that Burgos had at all times praised Harrison as a reliable scholar-athlete.
Richard Rabin, left, and his brother, David, had been highschool tennis teammates of Harrison’s. Credit…Marlena Sloss for The New York Times
“There was a certain level of cognitive dissonance,” stated Rabin, who’s now a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and trauma skilled. “It was too painful for them to admit that they were willing to allow their child to spend time with this man, because what would that say about them?”
He added: “This is a blemish on the community. They retraumatized a young adult.”
As the trial approached, Harrison struggled with whether or not to testify.
“I was so anxious where I was like, I don’t know if I can survive this,” he recalled.
He looked for felony protection legal professionals, picked a random Harvard Law graduate and referred to as from his automotive, so his roommates couldn’t eavesdrop. Could I be arrested, he requested, if I failed to point out up? The reply was no; since he hadn’t been subpoenaed, he might choose out.
Harrison determined to undergo with it. So did one other former Tamalpais High School pupil who alleged that Burgos had blindfolded him and touched him inappropriately.
Jurors couldn’t attain a unanimous verdict, although, and a mistrial was declared in November 2010, seven years after the abuse occurred and 4 years after Harrison went to the police. Dozens of fogeys petitioned the college district to rehire Burgos, to no avail.
“These are not stupid parents,” one father or mother was quoted as saying. “They are successful, smart people who would never entrust their children with anyone who wasn’t reliable and supportive.”
Harrison simmered with a must confront Burgos — in particular person, not over the cellphone.
One day he noticed Burgos on the public courts in Sausalito, main a apply with about 30 younger gamers. He opened the chain-link gate and walked purposefully as much as Burgos, who was standing between two courts, close to the web.
Harrison demanded that Burgos apologize for what he did to him. Burgos, avoiding eye contact, stated he couldn’t discuss to him. Harrison pressed on: The case is over. You can’t get in bother for admitting what you’ve completed. Have the decency to apologize.
Burgos’s college students started forming a wall between the 2 males. They had been joined by a number of instructors who had as soon as been Harrison’s Red Tailed Hawks teammates. Together, they shoved Harrison within the chest. Just a few threatened to name the police.
“I remember the irony — they were going to call the police on me?” Harrison stated. “Really?”
Harrison uncharacteristically raised his voice, “as strong as I could,” so everybody might hear him over the commotion. There he was, a grown man, surrounded by younger individuals in tennis gear, in a spot that had as soon as been his area, shouting at Burgos to present him again his childhood.
“I yelled out that he molested me, he’s a child molester,” he stated. “I wanted to warn them.”
The M.L.Okay. tennis courts in Sausalito, the place Harrison confronted Burgos head to head.Credit…Marlena Sloss for The New York Times
Harrison returned to his automotive, crestfallen. From then on, he would pursue a way more strategic and considerate method to getting justice.
That fall, he returned to U.C.L.A. for his third yr of legislation college.
‘Not Just Another Case’
A Myers-Briggs-like profession evaluation as soon as steered that Harrison’s patron saint was Paul Newman, his superb job journalist or lawyer.
And his persona? Protector.
He majored in authorities in faculty and thought of a profession in nationwide safety, then headed to legislation college. Before his last yr, he was an intern with the Los Angeles County district legal professional’s workplace.
“I felt like I could bring something to a local prosecutor’s office,” he stated. “There are plenty of prosecutors who have been victims of crime but haven’t gone through the legal process or the public scrutiny of a trial. I have been in those shoes.”
After passing the California bar in 2012, Harrison joined the Orange County district legal professional’s workplace and requested to be assigned to intercourse crimes. He advised shut colleagues about his experiences with Burgos, however most individuals he labored with didn’t know he had been a sufferer.
To put together for trials, he interviewed individuals in his messy workplace, shirt sleeves rolled up, head to head, fairly than in a sterile convention room.
“You could almost visualize Alex being the victim himself — he would bend his body in his chair to make sure he’s level with that person,” stated Tom Andrews, an investigator and former Oakland, Calif., police officer. “He treated the victims like gold — 32 years in the business, not too many D.A.s did that.”
Alley Muñoz, who till final month was a sufferer advocate for Waymakers, a nonprofit which helps victims by way of the courtroom course of, stated Harrison was unusually empathetic and meticulous.
“After he was hired he came into my cubicle and he said: ‘I want to get to know these victims. I want to know what services you offer,’” she stated. “They were not just another case or another number.”
Sometimes, Harrison’s youthful bearing shocked individuals in courtroom.
“He’s got this baby face, and my first impression was — oh, buddy, you’re going to get torn up when you go up against one of the high-end old defense attorneys,” stated Craig Lawler, an investigator. “That was not the case. Oh my Lord, it was like unleashing a pit bull.”
In a 2019 little one molestation case, the protection summoned a psychologist from California State University, Northridge. Children weren’t dependable courtroom witnesses, the skilled claimed, as a result of they may get confused.
Harrison challenged each paper printed by the skilled. The psychologist conceded that he had by no means interviewed a baby who had been sexually abused, nor completed any superior forensic coaching.
“You have no real-world experience,” Harrison advised the skilled. The defendant was discovered responsible.
In July 2017, after Harrison returned from a household trip to Greece, his then-girlfriend advised him one thing had occurred in his absence.
Burgos had been arrested once more.
“I remember there being dead air,” Harrison stated. “I remember feeling disconnected from myself for days.”
This time, the fees had been rather more severe than within the Marin case a decade earlier. One boy, a star tennis participant, stated Burgos had demanded oral intercourse beginning when he was 14. When he refused, Burgos withheld gear and threatened to derail his faculty prospects.
“The same freaking pattern in terms of the gifts, the grooming, the stretching, the massage,” Harrison recalled.
Another tennis participant did for the police what Harrison had refused to do years earlier: He claimed that he missed the intimacy he’d had with Burgos. Burgos acknowledged felony intercourse acts with the boy, and the police moved in.
Guilt enveloped Harrison. If solely he had completed a greater job on the pretext cellphone name. If solely he had testified higher on the first trial.
The second trial started in April 2019 in Contra Costa County Superior Court. Harrison and the opposite sufferer from the sooner case had been referred to as as witnesses below a California legislation that enables prosecutors to introduce testimony a few defendant’s previous sexual misconduct.
Jordan R. Sanders, the deputy district legal professional who prosecuted Burgos.Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times
The different sufferer stated he began ingesting after being violated. He was recruited to play a school sport however flunked out. He misplaced belief within the judicial course of and felt offended about something out of his management.
“I have to go back thinking about myself, that shy little kid standing in the office with his pants down,” he stated. “I’m still incredibly insecure with the fact that this was only one day, one thing that happened to me that still holds such an emotional grip on me.”
When Harrison took the stand, recognized in courtroom solely by his initials, A.H., Jordan R. Sanders, a Contra Costa deputy district legal professional, requested him the place he grew up. Years of emotion spilled out.
“I was born and raised in Mill Valley, California,” he stated, earlier than sobbing and asking for water.
After the weeklong trial, the jury deliberated for 2 days earlier than discovering Burgos responsible of 60 counts of kid molestation. Judge Charles B. Burch sentenced him to 255 years in jail. Burgos is interesting, stated Eric R. Larson, his court-appointed appellate lawyer.
The two victims from the second trial sued Burgos and the United States Tennis Association for civil damages, settling in late May for an undisclosed quantity. One, Stevie Gould, went public along with his story in early 2020.
Thirteen Years to the Day
Harrison sued the Tamalpais Union High School District on June 1, 2020 — 13 years to the day after he was mocked in courtroom — alleging negligence over childhood sexual assault. Tara Taupier, the district’s superintendent, stated she couldn’t remark.
A current California legislation provides grownup survivors of childhood sexual abuse a three-year window to file claims, beginning in January 2020, stated Mark Boskovich, considered one of Harrison’s legal professionals. The legislation has already prompted hundreds of instances, and its sponsor, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, anticipates extra associated to coaches.
“When people start thinking about childhood sexual assault, they think first about the church, then the Boy Scouts, but there were a lot of people involved in youth sports,” she stated.
Harrison sued Tamalpais High School final yr.Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times
Harrison left his job in August to work on private damage instances, employment legislation and different issues at a personal agency. But he missed the mission, and lately signed on as a deputy district legal professional in Santa Barbara County. His temporary: severe and violent crimes, equivalent to homicides. (He requested that his face not be proven with this text due to the character of his work.)
Off-duty, Harrison decompresses by mountaineering, biking and exploring new locations within the secondhand Toyota that he has had since he grew to become a prosecutor, 120,000 miles in the past. On trivia nights at bars with pals, he excels in historical past, politics and sports activities; music and popular culture, not a lot. He can be aggressive at board video games that prize technique and deduction like Avalon, Catan and Terraforming Mars.
Still, the calls for on an area prosecutor will be punishing, with work typically spilling into the evenings and weekends. Witnesses and defendants shortly come and go. Cases are postponed. Argued. Adjudicated.
But moments do linger.
Just a few weeks after one significantly draining trial, Harrison realized that do-it-yourself cookies and a handwritten card had been dropped off for him. They had been from an underage sufferer who had testified and his household.
Harrison, a stickler in regards to the workplace’s coverage on items, gave the cookies away. But he saved the cardboard.
Thank you for caring a lot and believing in me, wrote the sufferer, who had been recognized in courtroom as John Doe, simply as Harrison was all these years in the past.