GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An ex-gymnastics coach charged with sexually abusing 10 children in Kent County was previously fired over inappropriate pictures found on his phone, according to court records.
A detective, in a document filed in May, reported the Kent County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint in 2007 regarding “inappropriate photos of gymnasts” on Shannon Guay’s phone.
The 2007 case was one of two prior incidents revealed in the court record. In addition to the case involving pictures on Guay’s phone, the investigator who authored the document referenced a 2014 report involving Guay, who coached gymnastics in the 1990s and early 2000s at a metro Grand Rapids gym.
Guay, who allegedly used his position to prey on young female gymnasts, remains in the Kent County jail on 21 criminal counts involving 10 children. His bond stands at $2.2 million.
“(The 2014 complaint) was a referral from (Children’s Protective Services) in which Shannon (Guay) alleged sexually assaulted the sister of (a) girlfriend,” wrote the detective. “The victim was 12 years old at the time. Charges were sought and denied.”
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker declined to comment on his office’s handling of the 2007 and 2014 cases, citing the current, ongoing criminal case against Guay. According to a source within the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, the prosecutor declined to file charges in 2007 and 2014. Becker was elected in 2016.
In the 2014 referral alleging Guay had raped his girlfriend’s young sister, the sheriff’s department source told News 8 then-Prosecutor William Forsyth reviewed the report and found “insufficient evidence” to proceed.
As for the pictures allegedly found on Guay’s phone, the source said the photos of young gymnasts were disturbing but not illegal because, though the images showed private parts of the body, the girls were clothed and doing routine gymnastics moves at the time. Law enforcement officers have described such images as “lawful but awful.”
Guay, 49, who went by “Coach Jake,” worked at multiple gymnastics, martial arts and dance studios. But the first criminal charges against him, filed in late May, stemmed from alleged assaults linked to his time at Aerials & Baranis, a now-defunct gym that was located on Coit Avenue NE near Plainfield Avenue in metro Grand Rapids.
The building that once housed Aerials & Baranis is now a separate gym with new owners. It was a phone call from the new operators that sparked the current criminal investigation. They contacted the sheriff’s department after one of Guay’s alleged victims left five voicemails.
“I was raped 17 years ago when I was a 10-year-old f—ing child and you ruined my f—ing life,” the investigator quoted the alleged victim as stating in the voice messages. “You raped me when I was 10 years old in the locker room… I was raped there at least 35 times… I was in f—ing fifth grade.”
A deputy was able to identify the woman who left the voicemails through her phone number. According to the court record, she told the deputy she had been on the gymnastics team at Aerials & Baranis.
She’s now one of at least a dozen women who have come forward to report Guay sexually assaulted them as children. Allegations from 10 of the women led to 21 criminal counts.
In the court document that detailed the voicemails and the incidents in 2007 and 2014, the detective quoted two witnesses who coached at Aerials & Baranis during the time Guay worked there.
“The incident (one witness) described involved a student looking at Jake’s phone and locating a picture of a girl doing a backbend,” wrote the investigator. “The picture was from the front and showed the vaginal area. The girl in the photo had a leotard on. The incident was investigated, and Jake (Guay) was let go.”
That same witness described Guay as “creepy.”
“Jake (Guay) was always hugging on the girls in inappropriate ways, patting them on their back, touching their chests, and hugging all in the open,” the investigator quoted the former co-worker as saying. “(The witness) had heard through a child that Jake had told the child Jake had been watching a movie with two people. Jake advised that he was with his girlfriend and (a) young person. Jake mistakenly touched the vagina of the young person thinking it was his girlfriend. (The witness) advised Jake’s girlfriend was young at the time too.”
The second witness worked with Guay also told the detective of Guay’s inappropriate behavior in the gym.
“(The second witness) advised Jake would grab the girl gymnasts with one hand on the stomach and one on the small of their backs. This was not related to spotting them nor their routines,” the document said. “(The second witness) recalled Jake was dating an 18-year-old female at the time, while Jake himself was 30 years old.”
That same witness told the detective Guay was “obsessed” with his phone and would take pictures of “young female gymnasts ages 6 to 12 in compromising positions.”
“(The second witness) referenced two photos she recalled being located on Jake’s phone: ‘a girl in a bridge and literally taking a picture of her crotch’ and a photo of a girl climbing up a metal pole as a workout, but the picture was of the underneath crotch region,” the document says. “(The second witness) advised after these photos were located, Jake was fired…”
The former coach later managed to find positions at gyms in Michigan, Washington, California, Texas and Florida before he was arrested in May.
“We have notified jurisdictions in Washington, Texas, Florida and California where we know he has worked as a gymnastics coach in previous years,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said at a June 21 news conference. “We’ve made sure they have the details of this case, the pattern that we believe has been established so that they can look for victims in their jurisdictions.”
The sheriff’s office said Guay lived in Michigan from 1990 to 1997 and again from the early 2000s to 2012. He was in Washington state from 1997 to 2004, California between 2012 and 2020, Texas between 2020 and 2022 and then Florida until he was arrested in May. Anyone with information about or allegations against Guay is asked to call the Kent County Sheriff’s Department at 616.632.6100 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.
The sheriff said charges are expected in Charlotte County, Florida, where Guay was most recently living, linked to “some material” found there. She didn’t have much detail on that case.