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MailTribune.com
  • Coach left Calif. job after sex abuse suit

    Gymnastics instructor faced charges in 2000
  • A local gymnastics coach and sports photographer accused of filming his students in changing rooms without their knowledge was previously sued on allegations of sexual abuse in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2000.
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  • A local gymnastics coach and sports photographer accused of filming his students in changing rooms without their knowledge was previously sued on allegations of sexual abuse in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2000.
    Before coming to Southern Oregon, Jeffrey Scott Bettman, 54, was a gymnastics teacher for more than 20 years for the Santa Barbara Spirals, a youth gymnastics team once run by the University of California of Santa Barbara.
    A civil complaint was filed against Bettman and the University of California Regents, the university system board, in July 2000, according to an online case index from the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
    The complaint was for sexual abuse, according to University of California Regents meeting minutes from September 2000.
    The case went to trial and the court dismissed the charges, a representative from the Regents said.
    Further details about the case could not be obtained Tuesday, but a former Spirals gymnast coached by Bettman in the 1990s said she remembers that no judgment was reached against him in the case.
    Brie Zentil, now 35, of Newbury Park, Calif., said that the parents of two girls, ages 10 and 12, sued Bettman and the university board alleging sexual abuse.
    "At the time, there was not enough proof, so he was allowed to continue coaching," said Zentil, who said she was shocked to hear about the new charges against her former coach.
    Bettman was arrested earlier this month and arraigned last week on 10 counts each of first- and second-degree encouraging child sex abuse.
    He was ordered to stay away from minors and from gymnastics facilities in Grants Pass and Medford, according to court records.
    He was one of several people targeted in an October sting operation by the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force after police discovered Bettman's Internet Protocol address had downloaded child pornography images, according to the task force.
    Bettman became the focus of the investigation after investigators realized his connection to the gymnastics clubs.
    Bettman left Santa Barbara shortly after he was sued in 2000, and coached at the Southern Oregon Gymnastics Academy in Medford from 2003 to 2008, when he was fired for undisclosed reasons.
    Bettman has also worked at Ultimate Sports Gymnastics in Grants Pass and as a sports photographer.
    Zentil said that as a teenager on Bettman's team, she had a good experience with him, and to her knowledge he never filmed her or any of her teammates.
    "I am deeply saddened to hear of his behavior," said Zentil. "I've been struggling with the news of his arrest because I did have a good experience with him as a coach."
    Zentil said that Bettman was a highly regarded trainer, and that families would travel from as far as 90 miles away to be coached by him.
    "He had a great mix of technical prowess and a quirky personality that went over well with us," said Zentil.
    But looking back, Zentil said she now recognizes red flags in Bettman's behavior with gymnasts.
    "As a teen, I was oblivious. He let girls sit on his lap, he was highly affectionate with the hugs and kisses, shoulder massaging, and we even had sleepovers every year with no parents — but a female coach was present, chaperoning," Zentil said. "Jeff was a very unassuming guy. Any concerns brought up by parents were met with a logical response."
    Zentil said that Bettman was a talented photographer who did have photo shoots with Spirals gymnasts, though none included inappropriate behavior, as far as she knew.
    Bettman has a preliminary hearing set for Dec. 5 in Jackson County Circuit Court.
    Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.
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