BOISE — Boise State University suspended an assistant women’s basketball coach this week after news surfaced that a student-athlete he coached in Washington almost two decades ago has filed a lawsuit claiming he sexually abused and harassed her.
Assistant coach Cody Butler was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after school officials learned of the lawsuit against him, as initially reported by the Idaho Statesman. Butler has worked for the university since 2012.
Prior to his job at Boise State University, Butler worked at Yakima Valley College in Washington. From 2000 to 2002, he was the men’s and women’s basketball assistant head coach for the school, then transitioned to the women’s co-head coach from 2002 until 2003, and finally became the women’s head coach, a position he held from 2003 until 2012.
In May, one of the former players he coached filed a tort claim against him, Yakima Valley College and the state of Washington, claiming Butler sexually abused and harassed her in the early 2000s. The Idaho Press is not identifying the victim because of the alleged sexual abuse.
In an October declaration filed in the course of the lawsuit, the woman wrote she first met Butler in the summer of 2000 when she was 17 years old, just before her senior year in high school. According to court documents, that year she attended Jam On It, a youth sporting event hosted in Reno, Nevada. According to documents, basketball coaches from universities and colleges across the country attended the event to scout athletes for their programs, which was why Butler was there.
According to the woman’s declaration, Butler and another coach were “gawking” at her during the event and made comments about her body. During the event, according to the woman’s declaration, Butler also touched her inappropriately without her consent.
“At the time Butler was a person who was much older than me and who was in a position of power as an educator and a coach,” she wrote.
The woman wrote the inappropriate conduct continued after she began playing for Yakima Valley College’s basketball team in 2001 and Butler was her coach. She wrote he “used his position of power to sexually groom, harass and abuse me.”
According to the case’s complaint from May, Butler insisted the woman meet with him one-on-one “off the court, in his office, and at other social events.”
The complaint claims he gave her private training sessions and alleges Butler touched her inappropriately during those sessions.
“Defendant Cody Butler’s sexual grooming, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment were known to defendant (Yakima Valley College) because Jerry Ward, (the school’s) athletic director saw Defendant Cody Butler massaging (the woman) in Defendant Cody Butler’s office on (the school’s) campus,” according to the complaint. “Jerry Ward, however, failed to protect (the woman) from defendant Cody Butler and deliberately ignored the various signs of Defendant Cody Butler sexually abusing and sexually harassing (the woman).”
The complaint alleges Butler made the woman the team’s captain. When she tried to distance herself from him, however, he benched her, despite her being the team’s “star player,” according to the document.
“I soon went from being the captain of my basketball team to becoming an alcoholic and a heroin addict,” she wrote in her October declaration.
She eventually went to prison, but was released in 2012, she wrote, the same year Butler signed on with Boise State University.
FILING THE LAWSUIT
In 2018, the Amateur Athletics Union began investigating Matt Williams, the founder of Jam On It, the youth sporting event where the woman first met Butler. Butler and Williams had known each other, according to court documents. According to the case’s complaint, both men had made comments about her body at the 2000 Jam On It event.
A different woman claimed Williams had had a sexual relationship her while he coached her as a teenager, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. However, in May 2018, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported the investigation into that claim had cleared Williams of sexual misconduct.
Even so, the woman who accused Butler wrote, coverage of the allegation against Williams, and the investigation, sent her “spinning.”
She started to re-think her interactions with Butler in her college years.
“I began to see what happened to me in the 2000s in a new light, and I began the painstaking process of learning how it affected me emotionally and derailed other aspects of my life,” she wrote in the October declaration.
The process of coming to terms with those memories, even with the help of a therapist, was extremely difficult, she wrote. She described filing the lawsuit as “extremely difficult.”
When contacted by the Idaho Press, she recommended speaking with her lawyer, Kevin Hastings, of the Washington-based law firm Pfau, Cochran, Vertetis, Amala.
Hastings said he believed the woman’s intent in filing the lawsuit was to prevent someone else from enduring what she endured.
“To become part of the public discourse — it takes a tremendous amount of bravery to come forward with a story like this,” Hastings said.
Because the woman named the state of Washington as a defendant in the case, the Washington Office of the Attorney General is representing the case’s defendants, including Butler.
“The defendants categorically deny the allegations in their entirety,” attorneys from that office wrote in a document filed in October.
Under Washington law, according to an October reply filed by the attorney general’s office, there are certain statutes of limitations for allegations of childhood sexual abuse in civil matters — but in the original complaint, the woman didn’t mention childhood sexual abuse, according to the attorney general’s office.
“There is a statutory exception to general statute of limitations based on childhood sexual abuse in (the law),” according to the attorney general’s office’s October reply. “Although (the woman) now claims that the complaint is based on allegations of physical contact between (her) and Defendant Butler while (she) was underage … such accusations were not raised in her complaint.”
Lawyers from the attorney general’s office wrote the woman had “submitted an additional declaration that contains new allegations not contained within her complaint.”
Additionally, attorneys from the office argued in their reply that given the amount of time that has passed, it will be difficult to fairly try the case.
“When claims are filed outside the statute of limitations period, plaintiffs have the ability to craft their allegations in any way they deem fit with the reassurance that the memories of those who could refute their claims have had years or decades to cloud,” according to the reply. “In the present case, this creates a circumstance whereby both defendants, but especially Mr. Butler, are left to defend their reputations without the full benefit of possible witnesses and contemporaneous records that would have afforded to them had this claim been brought within the applicable time period.”
The motion to dismiss the case was, however, denied by a judge. The case has a 10-day trial set for June 2021.