What I'm Hearing: USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt has the details on why Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton is being investigated for sexual assault. USA TODAY
Kelli Tennant, a former sports reporter who has filed a lawsuit against Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton alleging he sexually assaulted her, made her first public comments Tuesday and said she feared Walton ''was going to rape me."
"When someone assaults you and you think you're going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing," Tennant said during a news conference in Los Angeles. "I have spent years now hoping I could bury it. I was able to muster up the courage ... to talk about this."
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and acquired by USA TODAY Sports. Tennant has asked for a jury trial, but is not seeking specified monetary damages.
Tennant said she considered Walton a friend and mentor when the two worked together in 2013. He contributed the foreword to a book she wrote, and when he came to Los Angeles as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, she arranged to meet him at his hotel in Santa Monica to give him a copy.
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But instead of talking in the lobby, Tennant said he invited her up to his room.
After discussing the book, she said Walton pinned her to his bed, fondling and kissing her.
"When I told him to get off, he laughed at me. I continued to ask him to stop over and over again. He continued to hold me down," she said.
"I thought he was going to rape me."
Tennant said she was finally able to get up "after what felt like forever."
Walton "came around and grabbed me from behind and held my arms down so I couldn't move and started kissing my neck again. I begged him to please stop and he continued to laugh at me," she recalled.
Tennant said she spent years trying to forget about the alleged incident, only telling family members and close friends and never filing charges.
"As a young woman who had only been in this job for only a year, I was scared," she said. She was 25 at the time of the alleged incident. "I felt coming forward would jeopardize every aspect of my life."
In 2016, Walton was named coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Tennant had to interact with him regularly in her job. She recounted an alleged incident in 2017 in a parking lot when Walton told her "You're killing me in that dress," before walking inside with her.
Tennant said each time she saw Walton he always greeted her with a hug and kiss on the cheek.
Walton and the Lakers parted ways on April 12 and he was named the Kings' coach two days later.
Mark D. Baute, Walton's lawyer, said Wednesday in a statement to USA TODAY Sports:
“These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court. Yesterday's press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement. Her lawyers want to create a public circus to distract from their complete lack of evidence to support their outrageous claims. We will not try this case in the media or pay them a dime.”
Although Tennant's attorney Garo Mardirossian said he "has not closed the door" on filing criminal charges, he expects the NBA will want to conduct its own investigation. The Warriors and Lakers said the first they knew of the lawsuit, first reported by TMZ, was Monday. The Kings said they are gathering information.
Asked what she hoped would result from her coming forward with the allegations against Walton, Tennant said: "I hope that he learns a lesson and knows he can never do this again."
Contributing: A.J. Perez
Follow Steve Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner