A former sports reporter who has accused newly appointed Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton of sexual assault told reporters Tuesday she was scared to report the incident.
Kelli Tennant filed a lawsuit in a California court, saying she sustained physical injuries and suffered mental and emotional distress after Walton forced himself on her in a Santa Monica, California, hotel room, about five years ago.
He was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors and she was a reporter, broadcaster and host for Spectrum SportsNet and SportsNet LA when the alleged assault took place, the lawsuit says. Although the lawsuit does not specify a date, Tennants’s attorney said it happened in 2014.
“I am no longer comfortable staying silent about the things that have happened to me,” she said at a news conference Tuesday.
Tennant said she didn’t tell her story publicly sooner because she feared what would happen.
“When someone assaults you and you think you are going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing,” she said. She added that she had hoped to bury the memories and time would help her heal, but that hasn’t been the case.
Walton’s attorney Mark Baute called the allegations “baseless.”
“The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom,” Baute said in a statement to CNN Sports.
Baute sent another statement Wednesday, saying Tennant’s claims are false.
“Yesterday’s press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement,” he said. “Her lawyers want to create a public circus to distract from their complete lack of evidence to support their outrageous claims. We will not try this case in the media or pay them a dime.”
Lawsuit: She said he made implied threats
Tennant said she met Walton 10 years ago at a competitive volleyball tournament he attended with his now-wife, who was a player Tennant competed against frequently. She came to know Walton better in 2013 when she worked as a reporter covering the Lakers and Walton was an analyst on the team’s television broadcasts.
She said he became a friend and mentor. She asked him to write the foreward for a book she was writing. They had a few lunches about the foreward and the book, she said.
Walton became an assistant coach with the Warriors in 2014. Tennant contacted him when the team came to Los Angeles for a game against the Los Angeles Lakers so she could give him a copy of the book as a thank you.
In the lawsuit, she said Walton said they needed to go to his room because he didn’t want to be seen in the lobby with his team’s players. She hesitated but went with him to his room.
Once in the room, according to the lawsuit, Walton got on top of Tennant and pinned her to bed. He kissed her against her will and rubbed his erection on her, according to the lawsuit.
Walton laughed as Tennant repeatedly asked for him to stop, the lawsuit says.
Attorney Garo Mardirossian said that, at the time, Tennant told a few people close to her about what had happened.
Walton made unwanted advances in the years that followed, including when he became the Lakers coach and the team was her sole assignment, according to the lawsuit.
“In these instances, … Walton made implied threats of additional physical assaults and other harm by his continued conduct,” the lawsuit says.
Teams say they are looking into the allegations
The Warriors said the team was “in the process of seeking more information” and had no further comment.
Walton was an assistant coach with the Warriors from 2014 to 2016.
The Lakers, where Walton coached for three years before going to the Kings earlier this month, also released a statement.
“This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers,” the team said. “If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”
The Kings said in a statement Monday that the team is “aware of the report and gathering additional information.”
“We have no further comment at this time,” the team’s statement said.
Tennant left Lakers broadcast team
Tennant now hosts a podcast. She left sportscasting about a year ago, she said. When asked whether she ever confronted Walton, she said she hadn’t.
“I was scared and when someone that you trust so much, that you’ve known for so long, that you truly believe would never do anything like this to you, pins you down to a bed, holds you down with his whole body weight, and makes you think that he’s going to rape you, the last thing that I was thinking about was how to come forward,” said Tennant.
“I was scared for my job, my safety, and what my livelihood would be like,” she added.
Mardirossian told reporters that Tennant has not filed a criminal complaint because they aren’t interested in seeing him go to prison, but they want her to be able to tell her story and feel better about herself. He also talked about the difficulty in prosecuting a criminal case when several years have passed.
They will let a civil jury decide whether to punish him, he said.
He also said an apology would go a “long, long way.”
CNN’s Sarah Moon, Sonya Hamasaki, Stella Chan and Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.