Old Main at Penn State
WILLIAMSPORT – A former cornerback at Penn State University has launched litigation against the school, the head coach of its football team and a former defensive tackle, claiming that they collectively turned a blind eye to incidents of sexual hazing and harassment perpetrated against him.
On Monday, Isaiah Humphries of Sachese, Texas, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Penn State University, head coach James Franklin of University Park and former teammate Damion Barber, of Harrisburg.
In the lawsuit, Humphries, who played one season with Penn State University’s Nittany Lions in 2018, alleges a campaign of hazing and harassment was directed towards underclassmen, themselves newer members of the football team.
Humphries further claims that Barber conspired with fellow teammates, such as linebacker Micah Parsons, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and linebacker Jesse Luketa, who “collectively orchestrated, participated in, directed and/or facilitated a campaign to harass and haze” both him and other underclassmen members of the team.
One moment recalled in the suit had Barber, Parsons, Gross-Matos and Luketa telling the underclassmen that they intended to make them “their bitch, because this is a prison” and having used the phrase, “I am going to Sandusky you.”
The reference being to that of Jerry Sandusky, the former Assistant Coach of the Penn State University football team who is now serving state prison time after being convicted in 2012 on multiple charges of child sexual abuse.
Other incidents alleged in the lawsuit describe the foursome of Barber, Parsons, Gross-Matos and Luketa taking the clothes of underclassmen players and not returning them, wrestling underclassmen players to the ground and humping them or simulating sexual acts with them, and making sexual contact with underclassmen players while in the team showers.
The incidents in question took place in the Lasch Football Building, a campus dormitory, or “other places” in Centre County, some of which were allegedly observed by team coaching staff, according to the litigation.
In addition to reporting the hazing and harassment to the team staff himself, Humphries’ father Leonard Humphries - a Penn State University alumnus, former member of the school’s football team and former NFL player - also reported the behavior to Franklin.
However, the suit says nothing substantive was done.
In the suit, Humphries said due to his speaking out, he was “overly and unfairly scrutinized," denied playing time in football games, faced pressure from team coaches to leave the football program and then bore the brunt of “negative reviews” given to other schools that were interested in signing him.
As a result, Humphries says he suffered physical pain, trauma, emotional distress, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression, plus humiliation and embarrassment.
The sum total of all the alleged events caused him to resign from the Penn State University football program in December 2018 and transfer to the University of California.
Mentioned in the lawsuit is Barber being found to have violated Penn State University’s anti-hazing policy and then sanctioned, subsequent to an investigation by the school’s Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response last year
As to whether Barber did not play in the 2019 season opener due to a violation of team rules, the school replied that in accordance with federal law, such disciplinary actions taken against students are confidential.
Further, Penn State University released a statement in response to Humphries’ allegations, stating no claims of hazing against anyone were substantiated.
“The University has established processes in place for responding to claims of potential misconduct. 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,” according to the school.
“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 district attorney reviewed the case and decided that no charges would be pursued.”
An inquiry from the Pennsylvania Record to Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna as to why charges were not filed in this matter was not returned.
Philadelphia-based attorney Steven F. Marino of Marino Associates, representing Humphries in the litigation, also did not respond to a request for comment.
For multiple counts of negligence per se (violation of anti-hazing statutes), assault and battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy, the plaintiff is seeking joint and several judgment against the defendants, unspecified compensatory, exemplary and pre-judgment delay damages, plus interest, further relief as the Court may deem appropriate and a trial by jury.
The plaintiff is represented by Steven F. Marino and Joseph Auddino of Marino Associates, in Philadelphia.
The defendants have not yet secured legal counsel.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania case 4:20-cv-00064
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org