Los Angeles (AFP) – Michael Jackson’s estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO on Thursday over plans to air a documentary that alleges the singer sexually abused two young boys.
The 53-page suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims HBO was violating a “non-disparagement” agreement by airing “Leaving Neverland,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
“Michael Jackson is innocent. Period,” the suit says. “In 2005, Michael Jackson was subjected to a trial — where rules of evidence and law were applied before a neutral judge and jury and where both sides were heard — and he was exonerated by a sophisticated jury.
“Ten years after his passing, there are still those out to profit from his enormous worldwide success and take advantage of his eccentricities,” it adds.
The four-hour, two-part documentary that is set to air next month includes the testimonies of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who say the King of Pop sexually abused them when they were seven and 10.
In a statement, HBO said it planned to broadcast the documentary as scheduled.
“Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged,” the statement sent to AFP reads. “HBO will move forward with the airing of ‘Leaving Neverland,’ the two-part documentary on March 3rd and 4th.
“This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”
The lawsuit contends that HBO in 1992 aired a concert in Bucharest from Jackson’s “Dangerous” world tour and at the time signed non-disparagement provisions that prevent the streaming service from harming Jackson’s reputation.
“In violation of both basic norms of documentary journalism and the explicit terms of the agreement, HBO has disparaged Jackson’s legacy by airing a one-sided hit piece against Jackson based exclusively on the false accounts of two proven, serial perjurers,” the suit states.
It asks the court to compel HBO to take part in a non-confidential arbitration that could cost the company $100 million if found liable.
Jackson, who died on June 25, 2009 after being given an overdose of the anesthetic propofol, faced multiple allegations of child sex abuse during his lifetime.
In addition to his 2005 acquittal the performer paid a $15 million court settlement in 1994 over allegations involving another child.
Read the filed lawsuit against HBO below.
Ohio State University Doctor Richard Strauss Sexually Abused 177 Male Students, Report Finds
An Ohio State team doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students from 1979 to 1996, and school officials failed to take appropriate action despite being aware of numerous reports of the physician’s misconduct over the 17-year period, according to an investigative report released Friday.
The abuse included athletes from at least 15 sports and also encompassed other students who saw physician Richard Strauss at the school’s student health center and an off-campus clinic.
According to the report, the school “had knowledge” of sexually abusive treatment from Strauss as early as 1979, “but reports about Strauss’ conduct were not elevated beyond the Athletics Department or Student Health until 1996.”
The report found male students regularly complained “that Strauss routinely performed excessive — and seemingly medically unnecessary — genital exams, regardless of the medical condition the student-patients presented.”
Strauss died in 2005. He was employed by the university from 1978 to ’98 but was suspended from his work as a treating physician in January 1996 after a patient accused Strauss of fondling him during a genital examination. Strauss continued in his role as a tenured faculty member, though, and was allowed to retire voluntarily. The school said it has initiated the process to revoke the faculty emeritus status that was conferred upon Strauss.
“On behalf of the university, we offer our profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss’ abuse,” Ohio State President Michael V. Drake wrote in a message to the campus community on Friday. “Our institution’s fundamental failure at the time to prevent this abuse was unacceptable — as were the inadequate efforts to thoroughly investigate complaints raised by students and staff members.”
The report, which is expected to cost the school $6.2 million, was the result of a year-long investigation by the law firm the Perkins, Coie LLP, which conducted 600 interviews with 520 subjects, including hundreds of former students.
Read the full-released report below (TRIGGER WARNING for explicit, graphic sexual content):
According to the report, “Strauss’ acts of abuse ranged from the overt — such as fondling to the point of erection and ejaculation — to more subtle acts of abuse that were masked with a pretextual medical purpose — for example, requiring a student-patient to strip completely naked to purportedly ‘assess’ an orthopedic condition, or asking probing questions about a student-patient’s sexual practices or performance.”
The investigators heard firsthand accounts of abuse from 177 victims but made clear there could have been more and noted that an additional 38 people reported an abusive experience with an Ohio State doctor but could not identify Strauss with complete certainty.
Much of the report focused on how much school officials knew and whether anyone took appropriate actions to stop Strauss when concerns were raised.
“Many of the students felt that Strauss’ behavior was an ‘open secret,’ as it appeared to them that their coaches, trainers, and other team physicians were fully aware of Strauss’ activities, and yet few seemed included to do anything to stop it,” the report stated.
School officials never reported Strauss’s behavior to law enforcement.
“As we suspected from the outset, OSU knew but intentionally failed to act upon the many cries for help by the hundreds of OSU male students who suffered sexual abuse by Dr. Strauss,” said Scott E. Smith, an attorney representing victims who are suing the school. “The systemic sexual abuse, although preventable, was horrifically nurtured by OSU when they chose not to act, turning a blind eye to those they had a duty to protect.”
While some former Ohio State wrestlers have publicly said that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) must have known about the abuse during Jordan’s tenure as an assistant wrestling coach from 1987 to ’95, the report doesn’t mention Jordan by name.
“We’re glad it’s done and we’re glad the university, for those individuals who were harmed, we’re glad the university has agreed to pay for counseling. But it confirms exactly what I’ve said all along: that I didn’t know any type of harm to athletes,” Jordan said Friday. “If I did, I would have done something about it.”
Asked if the report provided some closure for Jordan and his alleged role in the controversy, the lawmaker said, “I thought it was closed for me a long time ago and you guys know me — if I thought one of our athletes was being harmed, I’ve taken on the FBI, I’ve taken on the IRS, John Boehner — I’d have done something. But yeah, we’re glad that the report’s done and that people who need counseling and want counseling, the university’s going to pay for that.”
While the report cites numerous instances in which athletic administrators were made aware of questionable behavior by Strauss, the investigators said they “did not identify any other contemporaneous documentary evidence indicating that members of the OSU coaching staff, including head coaches or assistant coaches, received or were aware of complaints regarding Strauss sexual misconduct.”
Three groups of plaintiffs have sued Ohio State, and the school says it is actively participating in a mediation process.
“We hope that the report will force OSU to take responsibility for its failure to protect young students,” Steve Estey, an attorney representing some of the victims, said in a statement. “If OSU refuses to take responsibility the we will continue with civil litigation and put this in front of a jury for the community to judge their actions.”
“The University’s apology to the survivors of Strauss’ abuse would have been hollow even 20 years ago. Today, it is shockingly ineffective,” Adele P. Kimmel, an attorney representing another group, said.
While the abuse spanned nearly all of the men’s sports teams offered at Ohio State, the most instances of abuse involved members of the wrestling program (48 victims). The report described much of Strauss’s alleged actions in detail and said the abuse often took place during athletes’ preseason physicals. Others sought treatment for injuries and illnesses. One reported visiting Strauss with strep throat symptoms and during the exam, “Strauss fondled the student’s genitals to the degree that he brought the student to an erection.”
The report stated that the abuse rarely occurred on an initial visit and often escalated over time. Forty-two students described encounters that included excessive touching or groping. In one instance, Strauss explained his inappropriate actions by telling the athlete he was checking for male breast cancer.
Thirty-one victims told investigators Strauss unnecessarily required partial or full nudity during exams, which often resulted in the doctor caressing or fondling the student. Two victims told investigators that Strauss performed unwanted oral sex.
The report stated that “it was broadly known within the Athletics Department that Strauss showered alongside the male students,” and 84 students described times in which Strauss showered around students or loitered in the locker room as they were nude or undressing.
One gymnast said Strauss showered as many as six times a day, and numerous athletes said Strauss would time his showers to coincide with the school’s various teams, “taking up to 45-minute showers while staring at the wrestlers and their genitals,” the report stated.
While the allegations mostly involved college students, one victim told investigators that he was first abused by Strauss when he was 14 years old in an incident that took place under the guise of a body-fat testing study that Strauss administrated at an area high school.
Friday’s report brought mixed reaction from some of the victims.
“When I first saw it, I was relieved because it validated what we’ve been saying for almost a year and a half,” said Brian Garrett, a former nursing student who worked in Strauss’ clinic. “But now I’m angry because the coverup back then was even worse than we knew.”
While many of the allegations had surfaced in a news accounts and lawsuits, Friday’s report painted a full picture of both Stauss’ misdeeds and also Ohio State’s response. Kent Kilgore, a former swimmer at the school, said the school’s inaction over nearly two decades was particularly upsetting.
“I knew what he did, and I know how many years I’ve had to deal with this,” he said in an interview. “But I’m just stunned by how many others were involved in this and aware of what was going on. I can’t believe they allowed that man to continue for that long.
“I don’t know why years and years ago, when he was doing what he was doing to me, I didn’t pick him up and slam him into the mat. I could’ve stopped a lot of other athletes’ pain. That’s haunted me for 30 years.”
Several victims told investigators the Ohio State athletes talked openly about the doctor’s behavior in front of coaching staff, but “we could not make conclusive determinations about each and every allegation made about a particular coach’s knowledge.”
Twenty-two coaches interviewed by investigators said they were aware of rumors or complaints regarding Strauss. One coach told investigators that he didn’t complain to administrators but did personally confront Strauss about his behavior around his athletes. The unnamed coach “believed that any jokes or innuendo he heard about Strauss were due to Strauss’ rumored homosexuality — or simply the student-athletes’ discomfort with medical examinations — rather than any abusive conduct by Strauss,” the report stated.
The abuse began in 1979, Strauss’s first year of employment at the state’s flagship university, and the report says athletic department employees were “aware that Strauss was conducting genital examinations on male athletes that were unusually prolonged, and that Strauss refused to allow athletic training staff to be present for these protracted genital examinations.”
It continued even after Strauss was suspended from treating students in 1996. The report says around that time, Strauss opened an off-campus “men’s clinic” where he continued to see patients and abuse Ohio State students. He advertised his services in the school newspaper, offering a “student discount” to test students for sexually-transmitted diseases.
“The findings of the report have shaken us to our core,” said Michael J. Gasser, the chair of the school’s board of trustees. “The university is committed to supporting the safety and well-being of our entire community. The lessons of the past will continue to inform our efforts today and well into the future.”
(Reporting by Washington Post)
Judge Orders Life Sentence For Iowa Coach Who Abused Players
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A judge sent an influential youth basketball coach to prison for the rest of his life on Thursday, saying he secretly collected sexual images of 440 boys and molested more than a dozen over a 20-year period.
U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams sentenced former Iowa Barnstormers coach Greg Stephen to 180 years in federal prison, the maximum penalty he faced on sexual exploitation and pornography charges. Williams called Stephen’s crimes horrendous, saying he abused his position of trust to prey upon boys who saw him as their ticket to college basketball.
“The harm the defendant caused to the children is incalculable and profound,” Williams said from the bench in federal court in Cedar Rapids. He said Stephen’s conduct was “of such an extreme nature” that it warranted an effective life term.
The sentence, handed down after a daylong hearing, capped one of Iowa’s largest and most stunning sexual abuse prosecutions involving youth sports.
Stephen, 43, had worked with Iowa’s most promising youth players as a co-director and coach of the Barnstormers, which was sponsored by Adidas and competed nationally. Almost all of the high school seniors he worked with earned college athletic scholarships, including to play at universities such as Iowa, Northern Iowa and Wisconsin.
Stephen secretly amassed a digital collection of thousands of sexual videos and photos of his players and their friends. The majority of the victims were coerced by online personas in which Stephen pretended to be a teenage girl and enticed them to provide videos and photos of themselves masturbating — relationships that went on for years. Others were surreptitiously recorded by devices that Stephen placed in bathrooms in hotels and his home or disrobed by Stephen and photographed while they slept.
On at least 15 occasions between 1999 and 2018, Stephen touched boys, often as he shared a hotel bed with them during trips to tournaments and professional basketball games, according to Thursday’s testimony.
One of the boys later told police he kept quiet for years because he believed Stephen was his link to college basketball coaches for whom he dreamed of one day playing, Division of Criminal Investigation agent Ryan Kedley testified.
“He decided to swallow that experience and not tell anyone,” Kedley said.
Federal prosecutors and the mothers of two victims had urged Williams to impose a life sentence on Stephen, who helped manage his family’s auto dealership in Monticello, Iowa.
“He believed you held the keys to the basketball kingdom,” said the mother of one boy, who was tricked by Stephen into providing images of himself masturbating. “My son trusted you and you destroyed that … How dare you use basketball for your selfish, despicable, disgusting, self-seeking motivation.”
Stephen’s defense had asked Williams for leniency, seeking a sentence of no more than 20 years in prison followed by intensive supervision on release. His lawyers and experts argued that his conduct was primarily as a voyeur, not a hands-on molester, and that he was at a low risk to reoffend now that he’s been caught. Stephen’s father, Roger, said his son had helped him run the dealership after his brother was killed in a traffic accident 7 years ago.
“He is not a threat to society,” he said.
Stephen apologized to his former players and their parents, saying, “I am disgusted. The things I have done are repulsive and wrong.” He said his greatest regret was that his accomplishments as a coach were now tarnished.
Williams rebuked Stephen for that comment, saying his biggest regret should be the harm he caused the boys and their parents.
Stephen came under investigation after his former brother-in-law found one of the recording devices while performing remodeling work at Stephen’s home in Monticello last year and gave it to police. Eventually, investigators found a hard drive that contained more than 400 file folders, each with the name of a different boy, that contained thousands of images collected over more than a decade. A trove of additional pornographic material was stored in a file that was waiting to be organized, Kedley said.
Stephen, who has been jailed since his arrest last year, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of child sexual exploitation and production of child pornography charges. He is expected to appeal his conviction and sentence, in part by arguing that the seizure of the recording device by his former-brother-in-law violated his privacy rights.
California attorney Mark Haushalter said he has been retained for that appeal. “We believe there is merit based on the unusual and extremely unorthodox behavior of law enforcement in this case,” he said.
Patriots Owner Robert Kraft To Reject Plea Deal In Florida Prostitution Case
(CNN) — Robert Kraft will not accept a plea deal offered by Florida prosecutors in the case against the New England Patriots owner and other men accused of soliciting prostitution at a Jupiter, Florida, day spa, a source familiar with the case told CNN on Wednesday.
Prosecutors have offered to drop misdemeanor charges against Kraft and 24 other men in exchange for fines, community service and an admission they would be found guilty should the case go to trial, according to Mike Edmonson, spokesman for the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office.
Police said Kraft twice visited the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. Video footage showed him receiving “paid acts” in a room at the spa and surveillance video shows him being driven to the spa, police Chief Daniel Kerr said last month.
The deal offered by prosecutors also stipulates that Kraft must undergo a screening for STDs.
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