NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two men filed suit on Tuesday against Syracuse University and head basketball coach Jim Boeheim for calling them liars when they said an assistant coach sexually abused them for years as children.
The defamation suit filed by former ball boys Bobby Davis, 39, and his stepbrother Mike Lang, 45, in state Supreme Court in Manhattan details their alleged abuse by Bernie Fine in his campus office, a fraternity house, at traveling games and elsewhere in the 1980s and 1990s.
Fine, 65, has denied the allegations.
“It really hurt me to learn that Coach Jim Boeheim accused me of lying,” Davis told reporters at a news conference to announce the lawsuit.
“It really made me angry because I felt that he was speaking for the university when he made his accusations against me,” Davis said.
The lawsuit was filed a month after the men’s allegations against Fine were broadcast on ESPN. Boeheim, a Hall of Fame coach, initially spoke out in Fine’s defense, although he later voiced support for Fine’s eventual firing.
In an early interview with ESPN, Boeheim was asked about Davis’s allegations and said, “It is a bunch of a thousand lies that he has told... I believe they are looking for money.”
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, says Davis endured abuse “on an almost daily basis” starting in 1983 when he was 11, amounting to “hundreds if not thousands of instances” of molestation.
“The abuse, which consisted largely of Fine touching Bobby’s penis, occurred wherever and whenever Fine could get Bobby Davis alone,” the lawsuit said.
When Davis tried several times to ward off Fine’s advances, Fine threatened “he would tear off Bobby’s penis if he did not comply” and used physical force on the boy, holding him down with his forearm, the lawsuit said.
Several incidents took place in Fine’s office, which is near Boeheim’s and where the door was typically kept open except during the episodes of abuse, the lawsuit said.
The men said Fine abused them in his car, home, on campus and even during traveling games where Fine and Davis would routinely share the same hotel room, often with a single bed, according to the lawsuit.
“During the team’s visit to New Orleans for the NCAA Final Four tournament in 1987, when Mr. Davis was 15 years old, Boeheim went to Fine’s hotel room to pick up a roster or other paper, and saw Bobby Davis lying on the bed in Fine’s hotel room in his shorts,” the lawsuit said.
Boeheim could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Syracuse is currently ranked as the No. 1 men’s basketball team in the country, and Lang said he worried the school’s popularity will diminish the impact of their allegations.
“It may stop others from coming forward out of fear of being attacked by a highly respected coach or other university officials,” Lang said at the news conference.
The lawsuit was filed a day after it was revealed there is no way to criminally prosecute the case because both federal and state statutes of limitations have expired.
Davis first reported the abuse to Syracuse police in 2002 but an investigation never materialized. He then told his story to Syracuse University in 2005 and an internal investigation ended with the school concluding the story was uncorroborated.
When Davis’s allegations resurfaced on ESPN in November, this time bolstered by a second accuser, Lang, the university initially placed Fine on administrative leave on November 17.
Boeheim leapt to his defense. But he apologized for his remarks on November 27 when Fine was fired after ESPN aired a taped telephone call with Fine’s wife Laurie that suggests she was aware her husband behaved inappropriately.
“I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motive,” Boeheim said at an emotional press conference on December 2. “I am really sorry I did that and I regret any harm that I caused.”
However, celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who filed the lawsuit on the men’s behalf, told Reuters, “I haven’t heard it as an apology. After we serve him with the copy of the lawsuit, we look forward to hearing from him and what his response is at that time.”
Syracuse University spokesman Scott McDowell said, “The university is declining comment on the lawsuit.”
Laurie Fine, answering the phone at the Fine house, said her husband had no comment.
A third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, 23, who said Fine abused him in a Pittsburgh hotel room when he was 13, has filed a separate lawsuit against Fine. Federal authorities are investigating his allegations.
Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld and Michele Nichols; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Peter Bohan