Sport

Former kicker sues Southern Cal, claims ‘irreparable damage’


Former University of Southern California kicker Matthew Boermeester alleged in a federal lawsuit that school administrators “committed an egregious miscarriage of justice” in proceedings that led to his expulsion in 2017. 

Boermeester was expelled after Southern Cal determined he had committed domestic abuse against his girlfriend, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday. 

The school issued an interim suspension of Boermeester in January 2017, days after his lawyers claim Boermeester was the victim of “what can only be described as a game of telephone gone awry.” Boermeester’s athletic scholarship was pulled and he ultimately was expelled in May 2017, despite his girlfriend Zoe Katz’s repeated claims that she had never been abused by Boermeester. 

Boermeester and Katz are still a couple. 

Andrew T. Miltenberg, an attorney for Boermeester, said in part in a statement to USA TODAY and other outlets that Boermeester “lost his education and his future career in the NFL” because school officials made “a complete mockery of the Title IX process.”

“What happened to Matt Boermeester at USC should terrify anyone who believes in the right to due process and innocent-until-proven-guilty,” Miltenberg said. 

Southern Cal, which was first contacted by USA TODAY late Thursday night, has not provided comment. 

“Mr. Boermeester was unable to complete the two classes needed to receive his degree from USC and unable to resume his role on the USC football team, resulting in irreparable damage to his academic career and derailing his aspirations to play for the National Football League,” Boermeester’s lawyers wrote in the filing.

“Mr. Boermeester has in fact suffered severe emotional distress including anxiety, stress, depression, hopelessness, headaches, insomnia, weight loss, loss of appetite, humiliation, reputational damages, and mental anguish.”

The lawsuit alleges Southern Cal erroneously enforced Title IX, violated Boermeester’s equal protection guarantees laid out in the 14th Amendment, committed negligence and caused the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Boermeester seeks unspecified monetary damages. 

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What a student saw through a window late at night from afar wasn’t a physical altercation, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and reviewed by USA TODAY Sports. 

“Mr. Boermeester and Ms. Katz joked around about Mr. Boermeester’s role in USC’s Rose Bowl win, threw French fries at each other, and laughed together,” reads the suit, in part. “During this interaction, Mr. Boermeester playfully put one hand on Ms. Katz’s neck, in an intimate manner. They then entered Ms. Katz’s building together.”

That initial witness told the son of Southern Cal men’s tennis coach Peter Smith, who then told his father what the first student claimed to have seen. Smith, per requirements under federal law, reported what he was told to a USC Title IX Office, according to the lawsuit. 

ESPN was the first outlet to report the lawsuit. 

While USA TODAY Sports does not typically identify alleged victims of domestic violence, Katz came forward publicly in July 2017 when she issued a statement in which she was highly critical of how Southern Cal handled the investigation. Katz was the captain of the women’s tennis team at the time of the alleged incident.

“I want to be very clear that I have never been abused, assaulted or otherwise mistreated by Matt,” Katz said in the statement. “He is an incredible person, and I am and have been 100% behind him. Nothing happened that warranted an investigation, much less the unfair, biased and drawn out process that we have been forced to endure quietly.” 

Katz was ordered to meet with school officials “under the threat of a registration hold” at Southern’s Cal’s Title IX office, according to the lawsuit. At the initial meeting Katz was interviewed by the head of the school’s Title IX office, Gretchen Dahlinger Means, and vice president of student affairs Ainsley Carry – both named as co-defendants in the lawsuit – along with a school psychologist. 

During that meeting, the three allegedly “took advantage of Ms. Katz’s state of confusion, shock, and distress at having to answer questions about her private relationship, to manipulate her into saying things about (Boermeester),” according to the lawsuit. 

“The first time I was mandated to come in and be interviewed by the Title IX office, I was told that I must be afraid of Matt, which I definitely was not and am not,” Katz said her in July 2017 statement. “When I told the truth about Matt, in repeated interrogations, I was stereotyped and was told I must be a ‘battered’ woman, and that made me feel demeaned and absurdly profiled. I understand that domestic violence is a terrible problem, but in no way does that apply to Matt and me.”

This lawsuit comes after a California state appeals court set aside a lower court’s decision to uphold the expulsion of a Southern Cal student.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California wrote in its December opinion that the school “did not comply with its own procedures to conduct a fair and thorough investigation” in claims of unauthorized alcohol use, sexual misconduct and sexual assault. 

Boermeester’s lawsuit comes after four people connected with Southern Cal were indicted earlier this month as part of a federal investigation into a college admissions scandal run by William “Rick” Singer. Singer allegedly set up bribes that went to three former Trojans coaches and athletics department official Donna Heinel to get the children of his affluent clients – including two daughters of actress Lori Loughlin – into school using falsified test scores and sports bios, according to the federal indictment. 

Water polo coach Jovan Vavic and Heinel were fired by Southern Cal on March 12, hours after they were indicted as part of the probe.

Follow A.J. Perez on Twitter @byajperez

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