With his Gophers basketball career clouded by a third sexual assault complaint and an investigator’s recommendation of expulsion, suspended center Reggie Lynch “categorically and vehemently” denies the allegations against him, and has requested an appeal hearing, his lawyer said Wednesday.
But attorney Ryan Pacyga said at a news conference that he did not know whether Lynch would follow through on his challenge to findings by the University of Minnesota, or even whether he would stay in school. “Any option is on the table right now,” Pacyga said. “But he’s eager to clear his name.”
Lynch was not present as Pacyga made the announcement at a news conference in his office, where he said his client will have a difficult time proving his innocence at a time of the #MeToo movement and heightened awareness of sexual assault. He compared the current climate and Lynch’s situation to the lack of due process for Japanese citizens sent to internment camps during World War II.
“We look back now and say, ‘Oh my God, what were we doing? How wrong was that to assume that everyone was guilty and we’ll lock them up and that’s what we’ll do?’ ”
Pacyga’s media session in his downtown Minneapolis office came the day after a third accuser revealed an investigator in the U’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) found Lynch responsible and recommended expulsion for sexual misconduct in an alleged assault on April 7, 2016.
The 6-foot-10 center and Big Ten defensive player of the year last season is in his final months of college eligibility. The basketball season ends in March and even Pacyga conceded that the appeals process could stretch well beyond that. Lynch remains with the basketball team, but is not allowed to play in games or travel with the Gophers.
“I’m cognizant of the options for Mr. Lynch, which is continue panel hearings or say enough is enough and explore other options,” Pacyga said.
By the time Lynch played his first game with the Gophers in November 2016, he had already been accused of a sexual assault in May 2016. He was not charged in that case. During the 2016-17 season he was pivotal to the Gophers’ on-court resurgence.
Until Friday, Lynch was playing in the current 2017-18 season while under investigation by the EOAA.
Coach Richard Pitino and athletic director Mark Coyle took him off the game roster last Friday after the EOAA issued two separate disciplinary recommendations for Lynch in the alleged assaults from April 2016.
In the case of one woman, she alleged Lynch assaulted her April 28 in his dorm room at Roy Wilkins Hall. The U’s investigator recommended Lynch be suspended from campus until Aug. 1, 2020, in that matter.
In the matter of the third woman publicly announced Tuesday, the U’s investigator recommended expulsion for Lynch.
Lynch, however, filed notice on Friday that he will ask the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittee (SSMS) to consider his case. The three-person panel would hear from Lynch, the victims and possible witnesses. The panel would then vote on whether to discipline Lynch. The vote doesn’t have to be unanimous.
Pacyga provided more details about the allegations against Lynch. In the April 28 incident, Lynch is accused of digitally penetrating a woman, which resulted in the recommendation of suspension. In the other he is accused of forced intercourse and oral sex, resulting in the expulsion recommendation.
Pacyga said Lynch denies having sexual contact with either accuser.
Pacyga blasted the accusers for not reporting the allegations until 18 months after they are said to have occurred. With the delay, Pacyga said, Lynch was “robbed” of the opportunity to collect evidence that could potentially exonerate him.
Pacyga said Lynch cooperated with the investigations despite not having a lawyer with him during interviews.
Asked whether he considered Lynch a victim, Pacyga paused.
“I think, what I have to operate on, is Reggie Lynch is falsely accused and if you want to put a label on it you’re welcome to put a label on it,” he said. “But anytime someone is dealing with allegations and saying ‘I didn’t do this’ and you’re accused in such a serious situation, I think anyone would feel victimized by that.”
Pacyga’s one-hour news conference didn’t go over well with Caroline Palmer, head of public and legal affairs for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She said the women who accused Lynch should not be criticized for delays in reporting the allegations.
“Certainly attorneys need to zealously represent their clients, but at the same time he is blaming the victims in a way that is disturbing,” she said.
Abby Honold, a rape survivor and victim advocate, said she was “severely disappointed” in Pacyga’s use of “outdated rape myths” in defending Lynch, as well as the lawyer’s assertion that there should be a deadline for victims to file complaints against attackers.
“Every person is entitled to a criminal defense, but it should be a moral one,” she said.
Honold also shared a statement from the April 28 victim that said, in part: “I’m appalled and traumatized by how casually Ryan Pacyga discussed the details of one of the worst nights of my life, with no respect for me as a victim, or any regard for how this would impact me. … I will continue to tell the truth about what happened to me.”
U administrators and athletic officials have repeatedly cited privacy laws that prevent them from discussing the situation.
The EOAA notifies the athletic department whenever a student athlete is being investigated, U spokesman Evan Lapiska said.
Athletes are automatically suspended during criminal investigations, but the athletic director and the coach have discretion on whether to suspend an athlete during or after an EOAA investigation.
Lynch transferred to the Gophers before the 2015-16 season after two years at Illinois State. Pitino said the U conducted background checks on Lynch at the time and found “no red flags.”
But Lynch’s career was overshadowed by sexual assault concerns before he ever played a game at Williams Arena. Lynch was arrested in May 2016 after a woman made a criminal complaint of sexual assault against him. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to press charges in that case. In the same case, the EOAA found he was not responsible for violating the school’s conduct code.
The report made public Tuesday means Lynch has been accused of three sexual assaults in April and May of 2016.