Detroit — Former Detroit Mercy basketball player Tariiq Jones is suing the private Catholic university, athletic director Robert Vowels and ex-head coach Bacari Alexander, alleging Alexander "shocked and embarrassed" him during a "sexually-charged encounter" during a team practice.
The alleged incident occurred at the end of a practice Nov. 6, 2017, at Calihan Hall, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. federal court. During a team huddle, Jones alleges, the player made a "simple statement" to Alexander, to which Alexander responded by grabbing his crotch and telling Jones to "suck my (expletive)."
Less than two weeks after the practice in question, Alexander, who was in his second season as head coach, was suspended for a reason the university never explained. Alexander ultimately was suspended for seven games.
At the end of the season, Alexander was fired and replaced by Mike Davis.
A Detroit Mercy athletic-department spokesperson referred media inquiries to a university spokesperson, who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Vowels also didn't immediately return a message from The Detroit News, nor did Alexander, who recently was hired as an assistant coach at the University of Denver.
The lawsuit, filed with the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division, seeks more than $100,000 in damages, alleging the university didn't handle Jones' complaint seriously, and the university violated federal Title IX legislation and Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Jones' attorneys allege Detroit Mercy dismissed the incident as "locker-room talk."
Jones, 22, was a 6-foot-7 forward and attended high school at Macomb Dakota before moving on to Ranger College in Texas, and then Schoolcraft College in Livonia. From there, he transferred to Detroit Mercy, scoring nine points in his 2017-18 debut against Virginia Tech — just days after the alleged incident at practice. He played in seven games total, scoring in double-digits four times, before he was ruled ineligible for academic reasons for the second semester of the 2017-18 season.
After playing against Northern Kentucky on Jan. 7, 2018, Jones never suited up again for the Titans.
He alleges in the lawsuit that because the issue with Alexander never was resolved, he "struggled academically, including critical examinations to conclude the fall semester." In February 2018, Jones even emailed university president Antoine Garibaldi, "explaining how the incident had significantly harmed him, how the continued presence of Defendant Alexander as his coach caused him further stress."
Jones also said the incident led to mocking among his teammates, and even forced him to seek therapy. He said he felt "embarrassment and shame."
Jones said he filed a report with campus police, which dismissed the complaint. In March 2018, he filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. The university received notice of the complaint March 27. A day earlier, it fired Alexander, though didn't cite any incidents with a player or players as reason for the dismissal.
"Bacari helped inspire a strong work ethic among players and staff during his time and always challenged players to be their best both on and off the court," Vowels said then.
Jones continued to struggle academically and was notified in May 2018 he still wasn't eligible to play. He explored a transfer but didn't find any options, he said. He hasn't played since, and his basketball career is over.
The lawsuit, filed by The Rasor Law Firm in Royal Oak, claims the university failed to address the incident properly compared to if the complaint came from a female athlete.
Alexander, 42, was officially 16-47 in his two seasons as head coach, though seven of those games were coached by Jermaine Jackson, who filled in when Alexander was suspended. Prior to being hired, he spent six years as an assistant coach at Michigan. His hiring at Detroit Mercy was considered a big boon for the university, which bragged about welcoming Alexander "home." Alexander also had assistant stints at Western Michigan, Ohio and Detroit Mercy, following his playing career at Detroit Mercy.
Vowels has been Detroit Mercy's athletic director since May 2013.