Coppin State University and former men’s basketball head coach Juan Dixon were dismissed July 24 from a former player’s lawsuit, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.
Ibn Williams alleges in the suit that he experienced sexual assault and blackmail from another former basketball coach while attending the university. He seeks unspecified monetary damages and other relief, including money for medical care.
The court said Dixon, as well as athletic director Derek Carter, have immunity in the case, as they were state employees acting within the scope of employment, according to plaintiff attorney Daniel N. Epstein in a statement. Thus, they were dismissed from the case. Immunity fails to apply in cases of gross negligence and malice, per the Maryland Tort Claims Act.
The court said Coppin State could not have been negligent in preventing the former coach from allegedly engaging in sexual coercion because that was not the university’s duty.
Williams will be allowed to edit the complaint to address these points and refile.
“We are pleased with the decision to dismiss all claims against Coppin State University, the University System of Maryland, the State of Maryland, Derek Carter, and Juan Dixon,” Jennifer Donelan, spokesperson for the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, said in a statement. “Because the court has granted leave for the plaintiff to amend the complaint, unfortunately, we are prevented from commenting on the specific details of the case at this time.”
Coppin State did not respond to a request for comment.
The suit identifies Lucien Brownlee, then a coach and director of player development, as the person who allegedly assaulted and blackmailed Williams. The basketball player was tricked into sending sexual photos to the online account of what appeared to be a romantic suitor, the suit alleges. Williams was then told that if he did not follow the blackmailer’s demands, they would distribute the photos, according to the suit.
The suit says Brownlee told Williams that he had also “exchanged sexual content with the plaintiff’s tormentor.” Following this interaction, the blackmailer allegedly ordered Williams to engage in sexual encounters with Brownlee. Come November, the blackmailer made a similar request, and Williams complied, according to the suit.
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There were additional, similar demands made after the November encounter, though Williams refused them, according to the lawsuit. The blackmailer sent several messages indicating they knew Williams’ and Brownlee’s respective schedules.
Williams’ suit says that in June 2020, he was convinced by Dixon, then the team’s head coach, to remain at the school after Williams expressed concern about illegal drug use within the team. The suit says Williams did not bring up the blackmail during this discussion.
Blackmail demands resumed during the fall 2020 semester, according to the lawsuit, which also says Dixon told Williams that Brownlee was “mentally ill” and had a “troubled background.”
“We are disappointed that the university, coach Dixon and athletic director Carter are hiding behind statutory immunities rather than take responsibility for fostering and permitting sexually predatory behavior and drug use as part of their basketball program and we are disappointed in the decision of the court,” Epstein stated. “Other universities in similar situations have waived such immunities so that their students could be compensated based on the merits of their claim.”
Dixon, a standout player at Calvert Hall College High School and the University of Maryland, and a former NBA guard, took over Coppin State’s program in 2017. He was relieved of his duties earlier this year.
Williams now attends Morehouse College in Atlanta.