Judge throws out evidence against gymnastics coach, says detective was deceptive
FARMINGTON — Key evidence against a former gymnastics coach accused of sexually abusing two teenage students has been tossed out of court by a judge who determined a police detective unconstitutionally obtained incriminating information from the defendant.
Second District Judge David J. Williams on Friday ruled as inadmissible statements that Kelly C. Brown, 32, of North Ogden, made under questioning by the Layton detective on Jan. 12, 2021. Williams also suppressed evidence gathered from Brown’s phone after the questioning.
Brown was charged after a former student at a Layton gymnastics studio came forward to accuse him of abusing her in 2018 when she was 15. More charges were added when a second girl at a different gym saw news coverage of Brown’s arrest and she approached authorities as well.
He is accused of first-degree felony object rape; forcible sexual abuse and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree felonies; three counts of dealing in materials harmful to a minor, third-degree felonies; and class A misdemeanor sexual abuse of a minor.
After arresting Brown at the Layton gym, detective Shane Hallows took him to the police station. Hallows soothed Brown’s fears by downplaying the magnitude of potential charges, Williams wrote, and he failed to get an unambiguous waiver of Brown’s Miranda rights.
At the start of the interview, Hallows told Brown that “based on the evidence I have, I just need to get statements from you that can corroborate the evidence or dispel it, essentially.” He read Brown the Miranda warnings about his right to have an attorney before any questioning. Hallows asked him if he had any questions about this rights, and Brown said, “Other than I’ve never had to get a lawyer before, so …” Williams said that at that point Hallows appeared to interrupt Brown and moved into questions.
“I want you to understand that this is not even close to the most heinous crime I’ve ever investigated,” Hallows told Brown, according to the interview transcript. “The very worst thing that you could ever tell me is, in reality, going to pale in comparison to the kind of things that I’ve been exposed to. Based on facts that I have in this case, this is nowhere near that level of severity.”
Hallows also downplayed the significance of officers handcuffing Brown for his ride to the police station. “It doesn’t mean that we believe you are a threat to society. It doesn’t mean that you’re a monster or a killer, anything like that. It all looks the same, whether I’m investigating, you know, a retail theft from Walmart of a pack gum or a homicide,” Hallows said. “So I tell you this so you don’t come in here thinking that this is the crime of the century. … And I’m not just minimizing that. I’m being honest with you. This is not that big of a deal.”
Brown’s attorney, Tara Isaacson, sought to have the interrogation and the contents of Brown’s phones suppressed on the grounds the Miranda waiver was insufficient and that police were deceptive with Brown. At an August hearing about the evidence, Hallows admitted the allegations against Brown were very serious.
Brown told Hallows he had made “some questionable decisions” but had “never forced myself on anyone” and anything he had ever done “has been consensual.” After further conversation, Hallows told Brown he wanted to “try and rehabilitate as opposed to just punish somebody.”
When Brown said he had been “tempted by a younger female,” Hallows responded, “Tell me everything about that, from the beginning to end, just like we are having a conversation, like I’m your therapist.”
Williams said he could not find by a preponderance of the evidence on the suppression issues that Brown’s statements were not influenced by deception “such that they were made with a full awareness of the consequences of abandoning the Miranda right.”
The judge further ruled that Brown’s voluntary release of his phones to the police after the police interview “continued without a proper waiver of Miranda, and is therefore tainted.”
Isaacson declined Monday to comment on the ruling, and efforts to contact Ben Willoughby, the deputy Davis County attorney prosecuting the case, were not immediately successful.
In an April hearing, portions of the girls’ statements to police were read to the court. The first girl, in the Layton case, said Brown engaged her in personal conversations “and they always turned sexual.”
She said he touched her sexually, sent her explicit photos of himself and told her to delete all the texts.
“I hated what was happening, but I felt like it was the only way to get the coaching I wanted,” she said.
Everything changed when Brown got engaged in late 2018, she said. No more private coaching sessions and no more personal attention.
“I had been used, thrown away,” she wrote, adding that she then followed a self-destructive path, abusing alcohol, smoking marijuana and quitting gymnastics. She said her parents enrolled her in online school and she rebuilt her life.
The second girl’s testimony said Brown allegedly told her “he couldn’t wait to see me naked” when she turned 18. She was 15 at the time, in 2016. He allegedly sent her explicit photos and groped and sexually touched her, she said.
Williams set another hearing for Jan. 4.