CINCINNATI — A former Xavier University basketball player sued the school, alleging it damaged his reputation by expelling him for what he says was a false sexual assault accusation.
Dez Wells’ federal lawsuit also names the private Jesuit Catholic school’s president as a defendant. Father Michael Graham said in a statement Wednesday that the university denies the allegations and will defend its decision to expel Wells.
Xavier kicked Wells out a year ago in the aftermath of a female student’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her in July 2012. A Hamilton County grand jury declined to indict Wells after hearing evidence in the case. Prosecutor Joe Deters later publicly questioned the school’s expulsion and urged Xavier to “revisit” the situation.
At the time, Xavier said Wells was expelled for a “serious violation” of the code of student conduct, and that a board consisting of faculty, students and administrators made the decision following standard procedures for U.S. universities.
Wells, who’s from Raleigh, N.C., was a freshman star for Xavier. He subsequently transferred to the University of Maryland, where he was a top player last season after the NCAA agreed to waive the usual transfer requirement for sitting out.
Wells says he has been heckled by fans and faces continued questions about his character.
“From the moment this nightmare began, I’ve told the truth. I am innocent,” Wells said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s time to make this right. Xavier needs to set the record straight.”
His lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, seeks unspecified compensatory, punitive and special damages to be determined at trial.
“The repercussions to Dez of the school’s reckless actions are significant,” attorney Peter Ginsberg said Wednesday. Wells also wants Xavier’s expulsion vacated, although he has no interest in returning there.
Wells’ lawsuit says that he had consensual sex with the woman. It charges that the school’s handling of the case was a fundamentally unfair rush to judgment, causing him emotional distress and public humiliation, and will hang over him if he tries to become an NBA player or seek other jobs.
“Xavier’s statement forever falsely taints and permanently damages Wells as a student who was expelled from his university for a rape that did not occur,” his lawsuit states. “Wells will eventually graduate from college and will likely face difficulties in obtaining employment as a result of Xavier’s actions and false and defamatory statement, or, alternatively, professional basketball teams will be more hesitant to sign Wells.”
Graham’s statement said the lawsuit’s allegations are “unfounded and cannot be supported” and that the sanction determined for Wells was expulsion was upheld on appeal.
“The university has never revealed the specific charge against Dez Wells other than to say he was found responsible for a violation of the student code of conduct,” Graham wrote. “The university will vigorously defend the process and the decision.”