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Olympian claims retaliation over suspension

Keith Sanderson.jpg
Posted at 8:14 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 12:15:10-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — An Olympian and Army marksman from Colorado Springs who sued to try and protect his spot on Team USA's roster in Tokyo was not successful in getting a federal judge to issue an emergency order.

On Wednesday, the judge denied the motion filed by Keith Sanderson seeking an emergency injunction writing that he and his attorney needed to serve the defendants first before she'd make a ruling.

Sanderson said he was kept off the USA Shooting team as the result of a complaint of sexual misconduct made against him to the US Center for SafeSport. He believes the complaint is retaliation.

In his pleading before the court, Sanderson claims his due process rights were violated because the SafeSport only allowed him to see the evidence against him after the group reached a decision on his guilt.

A teammate accused Sanderson of sexual assault while they were on the medal stand at a competition in Mexico in 2018. Sanderson was notified of the accusation this past October and was interviewed in early November.

"They messed up a lot of critical information when they first interviewed me," Sanderson said about the complaint. "They told me the wrong athlete, and I'm like, that guy's a really good friend of mine. What are you talking about? And when they finally told me whatever, I was like, I don't remember that guy being there. It was three years ago, I don't remember that stuff."

According to his lawsuit, Sanderson received an email from SafeSport on March 29 notifying him of its decision. His attorney wrote that the decision amounted to a three-month suspension against Sanderson and that the email contained a link to a restricted document folder.

"Access to the time and reproduction restricted document folder was the first and only time Sanderson was provided an opportunity to examine any evidence that may support the complaint against him and only after SafeSport rendered a decision in the matter," the complaint reads.

In May, Sanderson requested a stay in his suspension from SafeSport. A hearing was scheduled for June 1. The night before the hearing, he was contacted by a reporter in California who claimed to have received anonymous emails containing detailed information about the complaint against him. The article was published the next day.

Sanderson filed a complaint with SafeSport alleging an abuse of process over the leaked documents. He said that complaint was then used against him during the hearing.

"Then in the temporary measures hearing, the SafeSport lawyer said well the hearing is moot, there's no more temporary measures, there's no more stay. We're revoking it because a complaint has been filed," Sanderson said.

His reply was. "I filed that complaint. Well, we're going to do an investigation first."

In his lawsuit, Sanderson alleges that he's being retaliated against because he helped to get coaches from USA Shooting fired.

Sanderson was an athlete representative on the USOPC's Athlete's Advisory Council in 2018 and the lawsuit states that in that role he was "instrumental" in the removal of a number of USA Shooting coaches.

In one case in particular, an athlete and coach were engaged in a sexual relationship that was not disclosed to SafeSport.

Sanderson spoke with News 5 during the Larry Nassar scandal and said at the time that many athletes, including victims of abuse, are do not speak out against their coaches and national governing bodies for fear of retaliation.

"That's the only avenue to the Olympics for an American, there's no free enterprise, it's not like, there's no competition there," he said at the time. "They have a total monopoly."

A spokesperson for the US Center for SafeSport said their organization does not comment on these matters to protect the integrity of the process. However, the spokesperson added that there are strict policies in place to protect against the divulging of confidential information.

Matt Suggs, CEO of USA Shooting said that Sanderson made claims in his court filing and interviews that are inaccurate and misleading. He said USA Shooting will be addressing those claims as the case progresses.

"We are committed to the safety of our athletes, volunteers, and staff, and SafeSport is critical to protecting our members from abuse," Suggs said.

Sanderson hopes the judge's decision will come before it's too late for him to travel to Tokyo. He said that SafeSport has not yet held an investigation into his claim that confidential information was leaked to the press.

UPDATE: Since this story was first published, News 5 was contacted by USA Shooting CEO Matt Suggs to dispute claims made by Sanderson in his lawsuit. His comments are as follows:

In reading your article among inaccurate charges made by Sanderson described as alleged, one was stated as fact.

"In one case in particular, an athlete and coach were engaged in a sexual relationship that was not disclosed to SafeSport."

​This statement is false. USA Shooting was a 3rd party reporter to the US Center for SafeSport on that case which was administratively closed by the Center with no finding of a violation. Your article implies a relationship existed and that it was not reported. In his filing Sanderson claimed that he reported this alleged relationship to the SafeSport Center. I don’t know if this is true or not, but all SafeSport violations can be found on their Disciplinary Database. A two minute search would provide you with complete filterable list of every violation and sanction for every sport.

I respectfully request that you modify the article to make it accurate. Also, his claims of “getting coaches fired” is not true. There was a move by the previous CEO and Board to eliminate remote national coaching positions and Sanderson is making misleading your readers by implying coaches like Jason Parker were fired. He resigned rather than relocating to Colorado Springs. Sanderson played no role in that.