Published November 20, 2014
Syracuse University's prompt response to allegations of sexual abuse against an assistant basketball coach was done in good faith but was flawed because, among other things, there was no direct contact with law enforcement, a special committee of the university's board of trustees said in a report released Thursday.
Although the 52-page document states there was no attempt to "cover up" any conduct, it reiterates a criticism voiced by Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick that police and the district attorney should have been notified immediately so they could conduct the investigation with all the experience and tools available to law enforcement.
The committee assessed the university's response to allegations that Bernie Fine had sexually abused former ball boy Bobby Davis. It said Davis' allegations "should have been viewed from the outset as involving serious alleged crimes."
Davis, now 41, claims Fine molested him for years beginning when he was around 12 years old. He took the claims to university officials in September 2005.
Fine, in his 36th year on the basketball staff, was fired in November 2011 after the allegations were made public.
Fine, 66, has not been charged, and he denies the accusations.
The claims by Davis and his step-brother, Michael Lang, happened too long ago to be investigated, but the U.S. attorney's office is investigating the claims of a third man who said Fine abused him. That third accuser, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli, of Lewiston, Maine, has since said he lied.
The abuse allegations threw into turmoil what was then the nation's top-ranked men's basketball team and seemed to threaten the career of Hall of Fame Coach Jim Boeheim, who staunchly defended his longtime assistant before softening his stance.
The university investigated the allegations with the aid of its longtime law firm, Bond, Schoeneck & King, and took no action after the investigation concluded that Davis' claims could not be substantiated.
The report, which does not reach any conclusion about the validity of Davis' claims, also said the school's counsel should have alerted Chancellor Nancy Cantor to allegations that student athletes may have had sexual encounters with Bernie Fine's wife, Laurie Fine, and that Cantor should have informed the board of trustees of the allegations.
Laurie Fine has said she was the victim of lies.
Among other findings in the report:
— The investigation didn't talk to enough witnesses or failed to interview witnesses thoroughly.
— No sexual abuse expert was called in to help.
— Bernie Fine was allowed to change his original statement but lawyers who did the investigation did not note the change in their final report. Fine originally said Davis might have stayed alone with him in Fine's hotel room during a road trip, but that was deleted at the request of Fine's lawyer.
— Lawyers didn't talk to two people who Davis said might have been potential abuse victims.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Davis, said she would review the report and discuss it with him before issuing a response on Monday. Davis did not return a call seeking comment.
The university did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement to students, faculty and staff, Cantor outlined steps it has taken to address campus interaction with minors. A working group has written new rules regarding programs in which minors are involved, and the athletics department has new policies regarding supervision of minors.
"The most important things now are that we continue to learn from these events over the long term and that anyone impacted by abuse or harassment is able to come forward in a supportive environment," Cantor said.
A judge in May threw out a defamation lawsuit Davis and Lang brought in December against Syracuse University and Boeheim. Davis and Lang, who also served as a ball boy and said he was sexually abused by Fine, claimed Boeheim slandered them by saying they were out for money after their allegations against Fine became public.