CRAWFORD | Containment blown: What new legal action means for Powell, Louisville
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) — Containment, as they say, has been blown. When three women who claim to have worked with (or danced for) Katina Powell at shows she allegedly put on for University of Louisville players and recruits from 2010 to 2013 filed a defamation claim in Jefferson Circuit Court on Monday, some things were set into motion.
First, it would appear that we now have witnesses, on the record, who may be ready to say in court that they were a part of strip parties in the U of L men’s basketball dorm. So now, in addition to five players ESPN says confirmed these events anonymously, and the one who acknowledged it to WDRB, we have three more who may claim to have been there, and put their name on it. (Five women, overall, joined the defamation suit on Monday, but two were not involved in her alleged activity at U of L.) Their claim that they did not have sex is important. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first we need to think about what this suit means, and there are several things.
First, in addition to Powell’s documentation being turned over for a grand jury to see in secret, it could be part of a case that happens in full view of the public. Every text, every journal entry, for better or worse, could be on its way into public (though not safe for work) view.
If Dick Cady and Indianapolis Business Journal Book Publishing don’t have anything, it’s going to be ugly. If they have a lot more than they’ve shown, it’s going to be ugly.
Either way, from here on, it’s going to be ugly.
As Powell’s attorney, Larry Wilder, told WDRB’s Ryan Cummings via text message on Monday, “It would seem that a jury will ultimately decide whether Ms. Powell defamed these gratuitous nude dancers. However, more importantly what will the NCAA and the university do with this confirmation of this behavior on their campus involving players and recruits?”
(Note: The women bringing the defamation suit did not say they were nude. That’s Wilder’s assertion.)
Now, that question about U of L is perhaps not the most pressing question facing Wilder, but it could well be the central question facing Louisville as this thing moves salaciously forward.
Everyone has been asking for the truth — I’d say we’re on a collision course with the truth, or at least as much of it as anyone can reasonably get at, through the courts — if this case proceeds.
“This goes beyond Katina Powell,” said Nader Shunnarah, who is representing U of L students seeking relief under what has to be termed a long-shot class-action claim that Powell devalued their education by her actions. “This lawsuit is also a claim against IBJ Book Publishing and Dick Cady because what they did is fail to investigate whether any of these allegations were true. When you publish a person's name and you impute or accuse them of a criminal act, it's defamation per se. And if they failed to properly investigate whether any of this is true, then they're liable."
Second, this suit, coupled with a grand jury investigation, could mean that Katina Powell’s original rationale for not talking to the NCAA is gone. There’s no reason for Powell or her publisher not to go ahead and turn over everything they have at this point, if it’s going into a court of law for examination anyway. I don't know if her attorneys and publisher would go for that, but it's worth keeping in mind.
Third, the NCAA investigation, while important, is no longer the primary venue of this whole mess. The courts will have subpoena power over everyone. Whatever a player has told the NCAA could well go out the window when they swear to tell the whole truth in court. The NCAA can’t compel players no longer in college to talk. The courts have no such limitation.
Fourth, you wonder if this spate of legal action would have U of L pondering legal action of its own. One of the options open to the school in all of this from the start was going straight to police with a complaint that basically said, “A crime has been alleged on our campus. We are asking that this woman be prosecuted for putting our students and prospective students at risk with premeditated illegal activity, and we support the prosecution of anyone who worked with her, or anyone who had sex with an underaged person.”
Schools are usually unwilling to do that, because they are, after all, a part of the NCAA. And because once things get into court, their control is gone. Everything goes onto the table.
Now let’s look at the defamation case itself. It will hinge almost entirely on whether Powell’s allegations can be proven to be false, or on whether she had evidence to prove they were true. Are there, among the texts she has saved, any to these women? And what of the background of these women will be dragged out in court?
The most detailed of the allegations from the women claiming defamation was what they describe as deception on Powell’s part in getting pictures of them.
Their attorney, J. Andrew White, said, “What they indicate to us is that the pictures in the book were taken for a calendar that she (Powell) was going to publish and never did. And they were very surprised that these turned up in the book for this reason - one, is they were not filmed at U of L - these pictures weren't taken at U of L, and secondly . . . they were taken in a garage someplace in the West End of Louisville. And no one was told that this was going to be any kind of publicity for a book that she (Powell) was writing, or proposing, and so they've been deceived all around. And none of them ever received any money for anything - dancing, sex or otherwise.”
White said that there’s no evidence his clients were paid anything by Powell at any point.
“Ms. Powell should have some kind of financial records that would show what she paid anybody — if she paid anybody anything — but they're all very consistent, they never got paid anything, much less to have sex,” White said. “They didn't get paid to come down and pose for the calendar. And the calendar by the way isn't an adult calendar, they're in bikinis, it's skimpy clothing, but it's not a nude calendar so, what they were told about posing for a calendar just wasn't true. And the implication — the statements that they engaged in prostitution also is not true and is therefore defamatory.”
So that’s where we are.
Katina Powell, just a few weeks ago, was enjoying her time in the media spotlight. Then she started talking. She confused basic elements of her timeline in radio interviews. A grand jury has subpoenaed book records from her publisher. Her youngest daughter directly contradicted a large swath of her book’s narrative in a recent Facebook post purported to be from her before it was removed. The same daughter is facing prostitution charges in two states. And Monday, three women who she says worked with her claimed that there was no sex involved in whatever happened inside the dorm, though they do acknowledge parties.
A great many people have called Powell to lay her cards on the table. I expect that will happen soon.
Is this a case like no other? In some ways, yes. The angle of prostitution changes it. And the locale — on campus. I can think of no other that was built primarily on the allegation of campus prostitution.
Whether that alleged action stands the legal tests it is about to be put to will be important in the resolution of all this. But even if most of what remains is strip-club type parties in the dorm, it’s going to be a bitter truth for many associated with U of L to deal with.
This isn’t the the first case to involve that allegation. In fact, it’s not even the biggest. Miami booster Nevin Shapiro admitted to paying for numerous outings to strip clubs for Miami recruits and players over nine years, in addition to paying for prostitutes and hosting sex parties on his yacht — much of this with the knowledge of and on at least one occasion the participation of coaches (one of whom, incidentally, U of L subsequently hired and retained on its football staff). For all intents and purposes, those strip club visits were lumped into the same impermissible benefit category as trips to restaurants or bowling alleys. But there were extenuating circumstances at Miami.
The NCAA, as I wrote 10 days ago, doesn’t need Katina Powell, or her book, to make its case. But now it may well have her, and whatever documentation she chooses to share, as well as a lengthy court record on which to draw its conclusions. What evidence she possesses — once considered off the table as her attorneys looked to shield her from prosecution — now may well be back onto the table if prosecution looks inevitable. If it's no more than what was in her book, she has a problem. But she and her publisher have always said there is more.
Frankly, I don’t think what happened today necessarily bodes well for either Powell or U of L.
I’ve said more than once, regardless of where your allegiance stands in this, you have to be willing to go where the facts take you. And it looks increasingly like they’re going to take everybody on quite a ride — and probably not the scenic route.
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