The Sacramento Kings and the NBA launched a joint investigation into the allegations that recently hired Kings coach Luke Walton sexually assaulted a female reporter in April 2016, when Walton was an assistant for the Golden State Warriors.
“The Kings and the NBA take these allegations very seriously and will collaborate to conduct a complete and thorough investigation,” the two entities announced Thursday afternoon in a four-paragraph press release on the Kings’ website.
The Kings retained attorneys Sue Ann Van Dermyden and Jennifer Doughty to lead their investigation, while the NBA assigned senior vice president and assistant general counsel Elizabeth Maringer to head its investigatory team. The three women bring decades of experience in criminal and employment law to the case.
The allegations against Walton
The investigation comes three days after former Spectrum Sportsnet reporter Kelli Tennant filed a civil lawsuit against Walton, accusing the 39-year-old former Los Angeles Lakers coach of sexually assaulting her in his Santa Monica hotel room.
Tennant held a press conference on Tuesday. She again alleged that Walton repeatedly groped and pressed against her in the hotel bedroom, despite her pleas for him to stop. Tennant said she did not report the incident to police and has only come forward years later out of fear she would lose her job with the Lakers’ television broadcast partner. She left that job in 2017. Tennant’s lawyer said her client was not seeking jail time for or a designated amount of money from Walton.
“I thought he was going to rape me,” Tennant told reporters on Tuesday.
Walton maintains his innocence
Meanwhile, Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, has twice issued statements declaring his client’s innocence. After calling Tennant an “opportunist, not a victim” in a statement on Tuesday, Baute doubled down in a second statement on Wednesday.
“These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court,” Baute said. “Yesterday’s press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement. 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.”
Walton’s employment hangs in the balance
Walton’s two previous employers, the Warriors and Lakers, issued statements on Monday denying any previous knowledge of the incident and declining comment. The Lakers said they would have conducted an investigation had they been aware.
The Kings, who hired Walton soon after the Lakers fired him earlier this month, also denied knowledge of the incident prior to the filing of the civil lawsuit on Monday.
“We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information,” the team said in a statement after the news broke. “We have no further comment at this time.”
According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, the Kings and their new head coach “were clearly moving forward with their working relationship on Tuesday,” interviewing multiple assistant coaching candidates for Walton’s staff. Whether or not that partnership continues likely depends on the outcome of this joint investigation.
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