NEW YORK (WSYR-TV/AP) - Two men who say they were molested by an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University announced on Tuesday that they are suing the school and its team's Hall of Fame head coach, Jim Boeheim.
Former Syracuse ball boys Bobby Davis and Mike Lang say they were molested by assistant coach Bernie Fine.
Fine, who has been fired, has denied the allegations. A third man also has accused Fine. The U.S. attorney's office is investigating.
Attorney Gloria Allred said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in New York City that the two men have filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court.
Allred said after repeatedly telling the world that Davis and Lang were liars, it's time for the university and Boeheim to be held accountable.
Allred conceded that Boeheim had ultimately admitted his mistake by apologizing. But she said the damage had already been done.
"Those words came too little too late. One of Syracuse's most respected individuals had already told the world repeatedly that Bobby Davis and Mike Lang were nothing but liars,” Allred said.
“It really hurt me to learn that coach Jim Boeheim accused me of lying. For a long time this was my worst fear...that if I did speak up against this person, that no one would ever believe me,” Davis said at Tuesday’s news conference.
A high-profile lawyer, Allred's recent clients include a woman who accused presidential candidate Herman Cain of making unwelcome sexual advances.
Davis was a ball boy for the team in the 1980s; Lang is his stepbrother.
Michael Lang said, “I felt sick to my stomach. I was also very worried that because coach Boeheim said it as coach of the now number one college basketball team in the country, that it may have stopped others from coming forward out of fear of being attacked.”
When the news broke Nov. 17, Boeheim staunchly, even defiantly, supported his old friend and said the accusations were lies to capitalize on the Penn State scandal and make money off a lawsuit.
"The Penn State thing came out and the kid behind this is trying to get money," Boeheim told the Post-Standard on Nov. 17. "If he gets this, he's going to sue the university and Bernie. What do you think is going to happen at Penn State? You know how much money is going to be involved in civil suits? I'd say about $50 million. That's what this is about. Money."
Victim advocates reacted angrily and called for Boeheim to resign or be fired. He later backtracked and said he was wrong to question the motives of the accusers.
That's not enough, Allred said.
Boeheim first softened his stance 10 days after the accusations were made public. After Fine was fired Nov. 27, Boeheim released a statement saying he regretted any statements he made that might have been "insensitive to victims of abuse." On Nov. 29, Boeheim apologized but said again he didn't regret defending his old friend based on the information he had at the time and said he had never worried about his job status in 36 years.
By Dec. 2, he was far more contrite.
"I believe I misspoke very badly in my response to the allegations that have been made," said Boeheim, who paused frequently during a postgame press conference. "I shouldn't have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that, and I regret any harm that I caused."
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said last week that Davis was credible but he couldn't investigate under state law because the statute of limitations had expired.
The 65-year-old Fine, who had been Jim Boeheim's top assistant since 1976, has since been fired.
The statute of limitations in New York on bringing a civil suit for child sexual abuse is five years after the victim turns 18, though there have been several legislative attempts recently to open a one-year window for older incidents. Prosecutors can bring criminal charges for felony sex abuse any time during the victim's life under an amendment to New York's criminal procedure law enacted Aug. 5, 2008. Previously the felony limit was five years.
"We're grateful any time a child sex abuse victim finds the courage to take action against a child predator," David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement. "That's an enormous benefit of civil litigation - it can help uncover evidence of complicity by a predator's colleagues and supervisors, and thus deter others from keeping secret about possible child sex crimes in the future."
Davis went to the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper in 2002 and ESPN in 2003; neither media outlet could corroborate his claims. He went to the police, too, in 2002, and a detective told him the statute of limitations had expired. Three years later, he went to the university; Syracuse had its lawyers do an internal investigation and says it, too, couldn't verify Davis' accusations.
Then, on Nov. 17 - with the country still caught up in the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, where a former assistant football coach is accused of molesting at least 10 boys - Davis told his story on ESPN. Lang also came forward. Ten days later, Zach Tomaselli, of Lewiston, Maine, spoke out. Also on Nov. 27, ESPN aired a tape in which a woman it identified as Fine's wife tells Davis she knew "everything" that was going on.
The university fired Fine that day.
Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis told ESPN that the abuse occurred at Fine's home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four.
Davis' stepbrother, Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine began molesting him while he was in fifth or sixth grade.
SU is declining comment on Tuesday’s lawsuit. The school never issued any apology, but the chancellor has said that there things that should have been done differently in the school’s 2005 investigation.
According to some Central New York attorneys, the statute of limitations does not hamper the newest lawsuit. The problem the attorneys representing Lang and Davis may have is proving that the two men were damaged in a legal sense by Boeheim’s early comments. It is possible, they say, that their attorneys may be forcing Syracuse University into a position where they may just want to settle rather than go to trial.