STATE COLLEGE – A former Penn State football player says in a lawsuit filed Monday that he was violently hazed by four teammates and head coach James Franklin allowed the hazing to continue.
Isaiah Humphries, who left Penn State's program in November 2018 and transferred to the University of California, claims he and other teammates were harassed by upperclassmen during their time on campus. He and attorney Steven Marino filed the suit on Monday in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg.
“The coach has a special relationship with a student-athlete, and the coach and the university have a duty to provide a safe sporting environment for the athlete,” Marino said during a telephone interview Tuesday evening. “And that didn’t happen in this case.”
Marino said he has advised the Humphries family not to discuss the facts of the case to the public.
“The reason the family has no comment is because a party and their lawyer has a responsibility to protect the integrity of a lawsuit and not jeopardize the lawsuit by inflaming the passions of potential jurors by providing facts that aren’t of public record,” Marino said.
Penn State University, Franklin and Damion Barber, a current Penn State player, are named as defendants in the suit. The lawsuit also names current Penn State players Micah Parsons, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jesse Luketa for hazing Humphries.
Penn State University released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
“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. In addition, Penn State police investigated related allegations and forwarded the results of that investigation to the Office of the Centre County District Attorney (DA). The DA reviewed the case and decided that no charges would be pursued.”
The suit alleges that Barber, Parsons, Gross-Matos and Luketa "collectively orchestrated, participated in, directed and or facilitated a campaign to harass and haze lower classmen members" of the team, including Humphries.
Penn State senior saftey Garrett Taylor on Tuesday tweeted his support for the program.
"I don’t speak out often, but not going to sit here quietly while @PennStateFball is falsely being dragged through the mud by someone who quit on the program...," Taylor's tweet read.
Former Penn State offensive lineman Ryan Bates tweeted a similar message to Taylor's:
"This kid absolutely sucks. I was there when he was and nothing but trouble came from this kid. From the jump he made a name for himself for being a trouble maker. I can assure you that everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie. THIS DUDE STINKS," Bates' tweet read.
The suit claims that the upperclassmen told the younger players "I am going to Sandusky you," in reference to former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted on dozens of counts of rape and sexual abuse. The suit claims Barber, Parsons, Luketa and Gross-Matos would wrestle players to the ground and place their genitals on the underclassmen's bodies.
Franklin, the suit alleges, acted "negligently, carelessly, intentionally, knowingly or recklessly and breached the duty of care owed" to Humphries by permitting the hazing and failing to protect the players.
Page 26 of the 55-page lawsuit states Penn State University’s Office on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response “undertook a formal investigation in connection with the May 22, 2019, report of incidents of prohibited conduct.”
The lawsuit states Penn State University Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response employee Yvette Wilson investigated the May 22, 2019, report and submitted the results of the investigation “for review and processing as appropriate.”
Penn State’s Office of Student Conduct charged Barber, and page 27 states Barber “was determined by the Pennsylvania State University Office of Student Conduct to have committed prohibited behavior in violation of the Pennsylvania State University Student Code of Conduct.”
Humphries’ lawsuit alleges the hazing was reported to Franklin and others on Penn State’s coaching staff and “no substantive action was taken by defendant James Franklin or other members of the coaching staff to prevent it.”
It also claims neither Franklin nor other Penn State football coaching staff members “reported the prohibited conduct to the appropriate individuals or offices.”
Humphries is the son of former Penn State defensive back, Leonard Humphries.
Tuesday evening, Penn State University released the following as its response to questions:
• Asked for comment on the allegations involving Coach Franklin: "Based on extensive interviews, we did not learn of any information that would substantiate claims."
• Asked for comment regarding Damion Barber’s one-game suspension in September: "The discipline of individual students is generally a confidential matter consistent with federal law."
• Asked for comment regarding the hazing allegations: "No claims of hazing were substantiated against anyone."