A prominent cheerleading choreographer is under investigation by the sport's governing body after he livestreamed on Facebook the aftermath of a violent incident in Mexico in which he allegedly pushed his boyfriend off a third-floor walkway.
In two videos posted Sept. 5, the choreographer, Brandon Hale, jerks the camera around his darkened hotel room, wailing hysterically. USA TODAY obtained copies of the videos, which span roughly nine minutes, before they were deleted from Facebook. Incoherent at times, Hale alternately describes his boyfriend as having fallen or been pushed. He pans the camera over a railing, where his boyfriend lies naked on the ground below. Later, an unidentified individual appears to be providing medical care to Hale’s boyfriend.
"I'm going to be in Mexico jail," says Hale. "I need help. I really need help."
Hale was arrested by Mexican authorities that day and accused of the "crime of injuries," according to police.
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Nicolas "Nico" Gallardo, Hale’s former boyfriend, told USA TODAY that Hale savagely beat him before pushing him off an elevated walkway at the luxury resort in Tulum where they were staying together. The incident left Gallardo bruised and bleeding from his head.
"He doesn't deserve to be around kids. He does not," Gallardo, 28, said. "This guy is an aggressive, dangerous person."
Yet Hale — who was suspended by the sport’s governing body the day of his Facebook livestream —appears to still have the support of some in the cheer community. Gallardo said that two days after the incident, a Florida gym owner offered him $5,000 to agree to Hale’s release from custody. Gallardo said he agreed, not realizing prosecutors would drop the investigation.
Hale, 30, did not respond to requests for comment.
Hale, who works with some of the sport’s top cheer teams, has been suspended before by the U.S. All Star Federation, the governing body of competitive cheerleading. Last year, a former cheerleader told the organization Hale had sex with him when he was a minor. USASF waited three months to suspend Hale — doing so as USA TODAY was examining the organization’s response to abuse. USASF reinstated Hale after an investigation.
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His latest case will be another test for the governing body, which has been the subject of an ongoing USA TODAY investigation into failures to protect athletes from abuse. The organization has been criticized for sluggish and inconsistent responses to allegations of misconduct, including in its handling of the previous allegation against the choreographer.
The organization has traditionally disciplined members only after law enforcement officials first complete their own investigation. After USA TODAY reported that the policy had led to complaints languishing, USASF hired an outside organization to take over investigations. The governing body has recently handed out a spate of interim suspensions.
USASF did not respond to a request for comment regarding Hale’s suspension.
Patrick Cowherd, an Indiana gym owner who has been critical of the governing body, said he believes Hale’s case should be taken seriously, but he is skeptical that USASF will do so. Bad behavior, regardless of whether it occurs in or out of a gym, reflects on the entire sport, he said.
"It's a privilege to work with children," Cowherd said, "so you’ve got to make sure that you’re on your best behavior because whatever you do is echoed loudly into the community and to the athletes that you coach."
Gallardo, who lives in Miami and is not connected to the cheerleading industry, said he met Hale at a wedding earlier this year and that the two had been dating for several months when they planned a vacation to Tulum, Mexico. They arrived Sept. 3 at Azulik, a resort on the Caribbean coastline with thatch-roof villas illuminated by candlelight.
He said the next day, Hale was drinking heavily before the two went to dinner. They got in an argument at the restaurant and Gallardo said he got in a cab alone, returned to the hotel and fell asleep. He said Hale returned in a rage at about 1 a.m. and began repeatedly punching him.
"It felt like premediated murder. I swear. He walked in ready to kill," Gallardo said.
Gallardo said he escaped onto a wooden walkway that connected the resort’s villas. Hale followed, he said, and pushed him over the railing.
Photos Gallardo provided to USA TODAY and posted on social media show Gallardo with two black eyes, large bruises across his body and a gash on his head. According to medical records he provided to USA TODAY, Gallardo received six stitches to close the wound on his scalp.
Two days later, while still in Mexico recovering from his injuries, Gallardo said he received a call from Jonathan Pol, the owner of Island All-Stars in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Gallardo said Pol offered him $5,000 if he agreed to let Hale be released from jail. Gallardo agreed, and Hale was released Sept. 8. Gallardo told USA TODAY he believed authorities would continue to investigate and did not realize that agreeing to Hale’s release would result in the case being closed.
Mónica De Ávila, spokeswoman for the Quintana Roo prosecutor’s office, said the case now is closed because the parties reached a financial agreement. She declined to provide further detail.
Screenshots provided by Gallardo show he received a total of $5,000 in three separate payments sent by Pol and Michael Scott Wright, a former coach from Pol’s gym.
All three payments say either "BH" or "for BH" — Hale’s initials — in the description. Pol and Wright did not respond to requests for comment. Gallardo said he used the money to reimburse his mother, who flew to Mexico after learning of the incident.
USA TODAY interviewed two legal experts who said it is unlikely that Hale will face additional charges in the United States. Robert Ciaffa, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego, once brought a case against a man accused of murdering his partner in Mexico, but he said the dynamics of that case differ from Hale’s.
"The only way we were able to proceed was because we could prove in my case that the defendant crossed the border with the intent to assault or kill the victim. So I do not think the U.S. would have jurisdiction for this," he said, referring to Hale’s case.
Hale is a well-known choreographer in the world of All Star cheerleading. His brief USASF suspension last year amid allegations that he had sex with a minor didn’t hinder his career. He was back in a gym the weekend that suspension was lifted, social media posts show.
In recent months, he has taught choreography at several top cheer gyms, including the Raleigh location of Cheer Extreme, a prominent gym that USA TODAY has investigated for questionable handling of sexual misconduct claims. In March, Cheer Extreme co-owner Kelly Helton on Twitter expressed her gratitude for Hale’s "brilliance, creativity and friendship."
"Thanks for taking care of my staff, our routines and my babies this weekend," she said.
USA TODAY contacted Cheer Extreme’s owners with several questions regarding Hale’s employment, including whether he would be teaching while under suspension, whether the company would continue its relationship with Hale if the suspension was lifted and whether there was anything else the owners would like the public to know.
Helton responded with a one-word answer: "No."
Asked to clarify, she did not reply.
In addition to working as a choreographer, Hale is an aspiring musician. A week after his most recent USASF suspension, Hale posted on social media that he was seeking extras for a music video.
Gallardo meanwhile said he is slowly healing from his physical wounds. He said he has suffered from frequent panic attacks and has struggled to sleep, rising in the middle of the night to make sure the doors to his home are locked.
"It's a nightmare," he said. "And it feels like it's never ending."
Gallardo said he decided to share his experience publicly because he is worried Hale will be able to resume working in cheerleading.
"I just want to bring awareness of his actions," he said. "I just feel like people in the cheer community deserve to know, especially if he's working with children."
Miguel Améndola contributed to this report.
Tricia L. Nadolny, Marisa Kwiatkowski and Maria Perez are reporters on USA TODAY’s national investigative team. Tricia can be reached email@example.com or @TriciaNadolny. Marisa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @byMarisaK or by phone, Signal or WhatsApp at (317) 207-2855. Maria can be reached at email@example.com or @mariajpsl.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cheer choreographer livestreamed aftermath of altercation in Mexico