Police said Thursday that they are investigating an allegation that Syracuse University basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine molested a team ball boy for more than a decade. Later in the evening, ESPN reported that a second former ball boy, and relative of the first alleged victim, has come forward with similar allegations against Fine.
The allegations cover a period from the 1980s to the 1990s, according to a statement from the university in upstate New York.
Syracuse has placed Fine on administrative leave "in light of the new allegations and the Syracuse City Police investigation."
The alleged victim, 39-year-old Bobby Davis, told ESPN the abuse began in 1983 before he entered seventh grade. He was the team’s ball boy for six years from 1984. The second complainant, 45-year-old Mike Lang, told ESPN Fine molested him when Lang was in fifth or sixth grade. Lang, according to ESPN, is Davis’ stepbrother.
Fine has served as an assistant coach at the school for 35 years.
Police told CNY Central the investigation is in its very early stages. As the day wore on, additional details surfaced on the nature of the allegations and Davis’ relationship with Fine, and longtime Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim released a statement in support of Fine:
”This matter was fully investigated by the University in 2005 and it was determined that the allegations were unfounded. I have known Bernie Fine for more than 40 years. I have never seen or witnessed anything to suggest that he would [have] been involved in any of the activities alleged. Had I seen or suspected anything, I would have taken action. Bernie has my full support.”
On Thursday, ESPN aired an interview with Davis.
"It took me a long time to come out and say something," Davis said. "And I just kept thinking about if he’s doing this to little kids — I got to say something. I can’t live with myself my whole life knowing that it’s going on if I never said anything and he’s still doing it.”
According to ESPN’s story, Davis originally reported the abuse to Syracuse police in 2003, but claimed that a detective told him that the statute of limitations had run out and that if Davis knew of boys being molested by Fine at the time, that Syracuse police would investigate those allegations. Davis told ESPN that he told the detective that he thought other boys were being molested but that he had only direct knowledge of Fine molesting him.
According to reports, the Syracuse police chief at the time was Dennis DuVal, a former Syracuse basketball player. DuVal, who retired in 2004, could not be reached for comment by ESPN. He played at Syracuse from 1971 to 1974, while Boeheim was an assistant.
The Post-Standard in Syracuse contacted Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick, who was first sworn in to his position in 1992. Fitzpatrick told the Post-Standard that he spoke with current police chief Frank Fowler on Thursday night and stated, "There wasn’t anything said [by Fowler to Fitzpatrick] about some investigation [currently] going on."
In addition, Fitzpatrick told the Post-Standard that he had no recollection of this matter being brought to his attention previously and that he would not suspect a police investigation into something dating back to the 1980s because the statute of limitations had passed.
According to the New York Penal Code, there is no statute of limitations “for prosecuting first-degree rape, first-degree criminal sexual act, or first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child,” but the statute of limitations “for other sexual offenses committed against a child under age 18 is five years after the victim reaches age 18, or the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency or statewide central register of child abuse and maltreatment, whichever is earlier.”
Late Thursday night, Boeheim told ESPN, "Why wouldn’t [Davis] come to the police [first this time]? Why would he go to ESPN? What are people looking for here? I believe they are looking for money. I believe they saw what happened at Penn State and they are using ESPN to get money. That is what I believe. You want to put that on the air? Put that on the air."
Penn State is in the midst of a child sex-abuse scandal stemming from a grand jury report which had claims made by eight separate people that then-Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky sexually abused them as minors. Sandusky has subsequently been arrested and released and faces 40 charges relating to the allegations.
Several officials at Penn State, including president Graham Spanier, athletic director Mike Curley and head coach Joe Paterno have also lost their jobs in the wake of the Sandusky story.
ESPN originally interviewed Davis in 2003 but claimed it did not run the story because the story could not be confirmed by a second source. That changed when Lang made his allegations.
The Post-Standard also interviewed Davis in 2003 and also held the story for the same reason. According to the Post-Standard, Davis went with the Syracuse basketball team on road trips and stayed in Fine’s room. Among the road trips was one to Hawaii. Davis also told the Post-Standard that Fine touched Davis’ penis on numerous occasions when Davis was both a minor and an adult.
According to the report, Davis said the sexual contact happened in many places, including Fine’s homes, his office at Syracuse, a fraternity house, a basketball camp and numerous hotels.
Davis, according to the Post-Standard, claims he broke off contact with Fine in 2001 after Fine grabbed him by the neck for failure to repay a $5,000 loan, which Davis reportedly admitted to the paper he never repaid.
However, the Post-Standard also reported that in 2003 it interviewed a “handful of other men who Davis said had spent a lot of time at the Fines’ house as children and who Davis suggested might have been molested by Fine. All of these men, including a close relative of Davis, denied Fine had sexual contact with them.”
In a statement, the university’s Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Kevin Quinn said:
“In 2005, Syracuse University was contacted by an adult male who told us that he had reported to the Syracuse City Police that he had been subjected to inappropriate contact by an associate men’s basketball coach. The alleged activity took place in the 1980s and 1990s. We were informed by the complainant that the Syracuse City Police had declined to pursue the matter because the statute of limitations had expired."
The statement continued:
"Syracuse University takes any allegation of this sort extremely seriously and has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. If any evidence or corroboration of the allegations had surfaced, we would have terminated the associated coach and reported it to the police immediately.
"We understand that the Syracuse City Police has now reopened the case, and Syracuse University will cooperate fully. We are steadfastly committed ensuring that SU remains a safe place for every member of our campus community."