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Federal judge dismisses player's lawsuit against Detroit Mercy, ex-coach Bacari Alexander

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a former Detroit Mercy basketball player against then-head coach Bacari Alexander and the university, claiming an incident at practice, while vulgar, was just "locker-room talk."

United States District Judge Bernard A. Friedman issued the judgment Wednesday, concluding a case that was filed in July 2019 and widely publicized the incident between Alexander and player Tariiq Jones that led to a then-mysterious seven-game suspension for Alexander in November and December 2017. Alexander was fired at the end of the 2017-18 season, just his second on the job. 

"Time is best friends with the TRUTH!" Alexander wrote in an email to The News on Thursday morning.

Bacari Alexander

Jones, in the lawsuit which was seeking at least $100,000 in damages, detailed the incident at a Nov. 6, 2017, practice, where Alexander grabbed his own crotch and told Jones to "suck my d---."

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division, and made claims that the university violated Title IX legislation and Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Jones said after the incident, he "struggled academically," forcing him to seek therapy for "embarrassment and shame." He also claimed the university didn't handle the situation properly.

Friedman disagreed, issuing a summary judgment for the Title IX claim, meaning he didn't believe there was enough to warrant a trial, and dismissing the other claims.

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"This was simply 'locker room talk,'" wrote Friedman, "which, while crude and inappropriate, cannot be characterized as 'so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.

"Alexander did not threaten plaintiff, he did not touch plaintiff, and he did not proposition plaintiff for sex."

Friedman's order allows the case to continue in state court, if Jones' attorney chooses to do so.

Andrew Laurila, Jones' attorney, said "we are evaluating our options" for an appeal.

"It is nonetheless disappointing," Laurila said.

A message left by The News for an attorney for the university and Alexander was not immediately returned.

Jones, a 6-foot-7 forward, played basketball at Macomb Dakota High School, Range College in Texas and Schoolcraft College in Livonia, before transferring to Detroit Mercy. He played in seven games for the Titans, scoring nine in his season debut against Virginia Tech, days after the alleged practice incident. He averaged 9.7 points and 4.6 rebounds in seven games, but was ruled academically ineligible for the second semester.

Alexander, 44, a Detroit native and former Michigan basketball assistant who's hiring was heralded as a big "get" for Detroit Mercy, was officially 16-47 in his two seasons as head coach, but seven of those games he didn't coach while he was suspended. He's now an assistant coach at the University of Denver, under head coach Rodney Billups, the younger brother of ex-Pistons great Chauncey Billups.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984