The suit contends that coaches failed to protect players after seeing and being told of violent and sexual abuse. Penn State says complaints were investigated and forwarded to prosecutors.
Penn State football coach James Franklin allegedly forced defensive back Isaiah Humphries out of the program after he reported violent, sexual hazing by other members of the team, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
The lawsuit names the university, Franklin, and ex-teammate Damion Barber as defendants in the case. In the suit, Humphries also claims players Micah Parsons, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jesse Luketa facilitated a campaign to harass and haze the lowerclassmen. Barber, who graduated Harrisburg High School a year ahead of Parsons, was a red-shirt sophomore this past season.
Players made unwanted sexual contact and threats such as “I am going to Sandusky you,” Humphries claims in the lawsuit.
The abuse resulted in Humphries giving up his football scholarship at Penn State and transferring to the University of California, the lawsuit states. Humphries is now seeking unspecified financial damages for the harm it caused to his football career, along with severe physical and emotional distress.
Humphries’ attorney, Steven F. Marino of Philadelphia, also represents a former team doctor who is suing Penn State.
On Tuesday, Penn State said in a statement that the university’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response, Office of Student Conduct and Penn State Police all investigated Humphries’ allegations. Police forwarded the case to the Centre County District Attorney’s office, which decided not to pursue criminal charges.
According to the lawsuit, the hazing occurred at several campus locations, including the Lasch Building, which is the team headquarters. Members of the coaching staff allegedly witnessed the hazing and failed to put a stop to it.
Upperclassmen allegedly told new players they were “their bitch because this is a prison” and made threatening statements.
Comments about former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky seemed to be a focal point of the abuse, with the lawsuit noting comments such as “I am going to Sandusky you,” and “This is Jerry.”
Sandusky is serving up to 60 years in prison, guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse — some of it in the Lasch Building. Joe Paterno was removed as head coach and other high-ranking Penn State officials lost their jobs and were criminally convicted because they did not share reports of Sandusky’s abuse with police.
In the lawsuit, Humphries claims that the perpetrators would steal a victim’s clothes and wrestle him to the ground while shoving their genitalia onto his face or between his buttocks, while humping him.
And if one tried to fight back or resist the abuse, they were the target of more intimidation and bullying, Humphries’ lawsuit states.
University, police investigation
In April, the university announced it was investigating sexual assault claims, reported to have occurred in the Lasch Building, WJAC reported.
The investigation was sparked by a football player, who claimed he was hazed, harassed and assaulted by other players.
“Numerous team members, and others associated with the football program, were interviewed and overwhelmingly they disclaimed, or flat out denied the allegations, with most saying it was just locker-room horseplay, or teammates joking around, and they felt that the original complaint came from a player looking for a quick transfer to another school,” the report from WJAC reads.
One player was even given a lie detector test, which he passed.
Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna reviewed the police report, but chose to not file any criminal charges.
The suit claims that when an anonymous report was filed to the Penn State Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response last year regarding the alleged hazing and harassment, the football program sought to conceal incidents of misconduct during the investigation.
The suit alleges Penn State, Franklin and Barber violated the Pennsylvania Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, and the university’s own anti-hazing policies. That law hit the books in 2018, partly in response to the death of Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State student who died in 2017 after being hazed at a fraternity.
The lawsuit notes that Barber was ultimately sanctioned following the investigation.
Claims that abuse went ignored
Humphries claims that on multiple occasions, the coaching staff observed the harassment and hazing in the locker room, but failed to intervene.
He and his father, Leonard Humphries, also reported the abuse to Penn State football coach James Franklin.
“Despite the harassment and hazing which was occurring in the football locker room being reported to defendant coach James Franklin and other members of the Pennsylvania State University Football team coaching staff, no substantive action was taken by defendant James Franklin or other members of the coaching staff to prevent it,” the lawsuit states.
Retaliation for reporting
In retaliation of reporting the hazing, Humphries claims his football performance was the subject of severe and overt scrutiny, and alleges that he was forced to participate in athletic drills designed to ensure his failure.
The lawsuit also claims that Humphries was denied necessary medical care for anxiety and narcolepsy after reporting the abuse.
He was shunned by some players, and targeted by others who conspired to instill him with fear, panic and anxiety, the lawsuit claims.
Luketa threatened Humphries with physical harm, the lawsuit claims. Luketa allegedly told him if he “ever visited ‘his city’ in the country of Canada that he would make certain that [Humphries] was gunned down upon arrival.”
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