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Former Penn State Football Player Sues Franklin, University, Ex-Teammate Over Hazing Allegations

by on January 14, 2020 12:54 PM

Updated with comment from Penn State.

A former Penn State football player has filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was harassed and hazed by other team members and subjected to retaliation by the coaching staff after reporting the conduct. But the university says the claims against players and coach James Franklin were already extensively investigated internally and by police, found to be unsubstantiated and resulted in no criminal charges. 

Attorney Steven Marino filed the lawsuit on Monday in U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of former Nittany Lion defensive back Isaiah Humphries against the university, coach James Franklin and defensive tackle Damion Barber. Marino also represents former Penn State team doctor Scott Lynch in a separate lawsuit against Franklin and the university.

Humphries, who enrolled at Penn State in January 2018 on a football scholarship, alleges that Barber, along with teammates Micah Parsons, Jesse Luketa and Yetur Gross-Matos led "a campaign to harass and haze lower classmen members of the Penn State football team," as a form of initiation. Parsons, Luketa — who were in the same recruiting class as Humphries — and Gross-Matos are not named as defendants.

A statement provided by the university said the allegations were investigated internally and by police and that the Centre County District Attorney found no basis for criminal charges.

"The university has established processes in place for responding to claims of potential misconduct," the statement said. "In accordance with our processes, the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response and the Office of Student Conduct carried out investigations of the plaintiff’s claims independent from Intercollegiate Athletics. In addition, Penn State police investigated related allegations and forwarded the results of that investigation to the Office of the Centre County District Attorney. The DA reviewed the case and decided that no charges would be pursued."

In the lawsuit, Humphries claims the four players would wrestle teammates to the ground and simulate sexual acts, as well as place their genitals on or near the alleged victims. The incidents occurred in the Lasch Football Building locker room and showers, campus dorms and other locations, according to the lawsuit.

They also allegedly stated that they intended to make "lower classmen" “their bitch because this is prison,” and threatened "I am going to Sandusky you," a reference to former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of child sexual abuse.

Police received a report last spring of indecent assaults by a student in the Lasch Building. In December, WJAC-TV reported that a lengthy investigation resulted from one former player's claim of being hazed by other players. Numerous team members denied the allegations and police and the Centre County District Attorney's Office did not file charges. One player took and passed a lie detector test and team members "felt that the original complaint came from a player looking for a quick transfer to another school," according to WJAC.

A Penn State spokesperson said on Tuesday that "No claims of hazing were substantiated against anyone," in the course of the investigation.

Humphries, who left the program at the end of his freshman season in 2018, claims that members of the coaching staff observed the alleged conduct on multiple occasions. He also says he reported it to the coaching staff and that his father, former Penn State player Leonard Humphries, reported it directly to Franklin, who did not take any action.

Instead, the lawsuit claims, Franklin and the coaching staff retaliated against Humphries, who says he "was scorned and punished."

Humphries alleges he was required to participate in athletic drills designed to ensure he would fail, and that performance was used to deny him playing opportunities. He also says the team's academic advisor subjected him "to irrational and inappropriate censure."

The lawsuit claims Humphries was denied medical accommodations for diagnosed anxiety and narcolepsy and that the coaching staff tried to get him to leave the team by offering a medical retirement option.

When he decided to transfer, Humphries says, the staff provided negative reviews to other college programs. He ultimately transferred to the University of California.

A university spokesperson said Monday that, "Based on extensive interviews, we did not learn of any information that would substantiate the claims," against Franklin.

Before leaving, Humphries claims he was ostracized and shunned by other players in retaliation for reporting the alleged hazing, and that Luketa threatened him with physical harm.

Last spring, Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response received an anonymous complaint of harassment and hazing by football team members. After a formal investigation, Barber was charged with violating the student code of conduct and sanctioned by the Office of Student Conduct, according to the lawsuit.

Barber was suspended for one game in September. The university spokesperson said individual student discipline is generally a confidential matter under federal law.

The lawsuit claims negligence in violation of Pennsylvania's anti-hazing law and infliction of emotional distress by each defendant. It also includes counts of assault and battery and civil conspiracy against Barber.

Humphries is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. 

Barber, Parsons and Luketa are current members of the Penn State football team. Gross-Matos declared for the NFL Draft following the 2019 season.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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