NEW YORK (AP) — Two men who say they were molested by an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University have sued the school and men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim for defamation.
Former Syracuse ball boys Bobby Davis and Mike Lang say they were molested by assistant coach Bernie Fine, who has since been fired and has denied the allegations. A third man also has accused the 65-year-old Fine, who had been Jim Boeheim’s top assistant since 1976.
The U.S. attorney’s office is investigating.
Attorney Gloria Allred said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in New York that the two men filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning in New York State Supreme Court.
“Boeheim’s statements impugning the veracity and motivations of Mr. Davis and Mr. Lang were particularly disturbing, given his 35 years of opportunity to observe Fine at close quarters, and at least seven years of opportunity to see Fine with Bobby Davis on trips, at practices, in Manley Fieldhouse and at games,” Allred said.
Syracuse University did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
When the news broke Nov. 17, Boeheim staunchly, even defiantly, supported his old friend and said the accusations were lies to capitalize on the Penn State child-sex-abuse case and make money off a lawsuit.
“The Penn State thing came out, and the kid behind this is trying to get money,” Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard on Nov. 17. “If he gets this, he’s going to sue the university and Bernie. What do you think is going to happen at Penn State? You know how much money is going to be involved in civil suits? I’d say about $50 million. That’s what this is about. Money.”
Victim advocates reacted angrily to Boeheim’s initial comments and called for him to resign or be fired. He later backtracked and said he was wrong to question the motives of the accusers.
That’s not enough, said Allred, whose recent clients include a woman who accused presidential candidate Herman Cain of making unwelcome sexual advances.
“Although Boeheim eventually acknowledged that he ‘misspoke,’ those words came too little too late,” Allred said. “One of Syracuse’s most respected individuals had already told the world repeatedly that Bobby Davis and Mike Lang were nothing but liars and out for money and nothing else.
Boeheim first softened his stance 10 days after the accusations were made public. After Fine was fired Nov. 27, Boeheim released a statement saying he regretted any statements he made that might have been “insensitive to victims of abuse.” On Nov. 29, Boeheim apologized but said again he didn’t regret defending his old friend based on the information he had at the time and said he had never worried about his job status in 36 years.
By Dec. 2, he was far more contrite.
“I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made,” said Boeheim, who paused frequently during a postgame press conference. “I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm that I caused.”
Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis told ESPN that the abuse occurred at Fine’s home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four.
“Boeheim saw me with Bernie all the time in the hotel rooms, on road trips,” Davis said. “He’d come in and see me laying in the bed, kind of glance at me like, ‘What are you doing here?’ But he wouldn’t say that. He’d just scowl. And I would look at him like, I’d be nervous. I felt embarrassed ‘cause I felt stupid that I’m there. I’m not supposed to be here. I know it, and Boeheim’s not stupid.”
“This kid came forward, and there was no one to corroborate his story. Not one. Not one,” Boeheim said. “They said I walked into Bernie’s room on the road and saw this. I have never walked into Bernie’s room on the road. This isn’t true. This just isn’t true.”
Davis went to the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper in 2002 and ESPN in 2003; neither media outlet could corroborate his claims. He went to the police, too, in 2002, and a detective told him the statute of limitations had expired. Three years later, he went to the university; Syracuse had its lawyers do an internal investigation and said it, too, couldn’t verify Davis‘ accusations.
Then, on Nov. 17 — with the country still caught up in the child-sex-abuse scandal at Penn State, where a former assistant football coach is accused of molesting at least 10 boys — Davis told his story on ESPN. Lang also came forward. Ten days later, Zach Tomaselli of Lewiston, Maine, spoke out. Also on Nov. 27, ESPN aired a tape in which a woman it identified as Fine’s wife tells Davis she knew “everything” that was going on.
The university fired Fine that day.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said last week that Davis was credible but that he couldn’t investigate under state law because the statute of limitations had expired.
The statute of limitations in New York on bringing a civil suit for child sexual abuse is five years after the victim turns 18, though there have been several legislative attempts recently to open a one-year window for older incidents. Prosecutors can bring criminal charges for felony sex abuse any time during the victim’s life under an amendment to New York’s criminal procedure law enacted Aug. 5, 2008. Previously the felony limit was five years.
”We’re grateful any time a child-sex-abuse victim finds the courage to take action against a child predator,” David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement. “That’s an enormous benefit of civil litigation — it can help uncover evidence of complicity by a predator’s colleagues and supervisors and thus deter others from keeping secret about possible child sex crimes in the future.”