Cal report substantiates WNBA star Layshia Clarendon’s sexual harassment claims against former athletic department employee

Cal report substantiates WNBA star Layshia Clarendon’s sexual harassment claims against former athletic department employee

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An internal investigation by the University of California-Berkeley has substantiated claims of sexual violence and harassment against longtime athletic department employee Mohamed Muqtar.

On April 17, Cal sent copies of the finished report to the seven women, all former Cal student-athletes, who claimed abuse by Muqtar dating back nearly 20 years. Among the women is current WNBA All-Star Layshia Clarendon, whose lawsuit filed in January jump-started the school’s investigation into Muqtar. Clarendon’s accusations against Muqtar include a physical assault in 2009-10, during her freshman year at Cal, when she was 18 years old.

A copy of the report was also sent to the Cal athletic department by deputy Title IX compliance officer Yohance Edwards. When reached by ESPN, Cal Athletics confirmed that it had fired Muqtar, effective May 11, and offered the following explanation: “Our primary goal as an athletic department is to support and provide an outstanding student-athlete experience, and it pains us to hear about these actions by one of our employees who they turned to as a trusted adviser. The findings described in the report are appalling, wholly unacceptable and have no place in our department, on campus or anywhere.”

The report, obtained by ESPN, said the investigation was conducted by an outside investigator for Cal’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD). According to the report, “Based on consideration of [Cal’s sexual harassment and sexual violence policy] and the relevant information gathered through the investigation … the investigator found that the conduct as described … is SUBSTANTIATED and that [Muqtar] is therefore RESPONSIBLE for a violation of the policies.” The report addressed complaints made by seven women. In the document, Muqtar’s name is redacted, and he is listed as “respondent.” When contacted by ESPN, four of the complainants confirmed that the redacted name, the “respondent,” was Muqtar.

When reached on his cellphone in January, Muqtar said he had “no comment” on Clarendon’s pending lawsuit and immediately hung up. Repeated calls to the same cellphone number this week went straight to voicemail.

Muqtar was initially put on investigatory leave on Dec. 12, 2017, after the school was notified of Clarendon’s pending lawsuit, which claims negligence on the part of the regents who oversee Cal. Muqtar, 61, was directed to have no contact with former or present Cal student-athletes or recruits and was ordered to not enter the school’s athletic facilities without permission. According to the report, the athletic department had until the end of May — 40 days from the delivery of the internal investigation report — to implement a decision on the employment status of Muqtar, who is the assistant athletic director for student services. He started work in the athletic department nearly 25 years ago.

Separately, on May 4, Alameda County Superior Court threw out Clarendon’s civil lawsuit against Cal because the statute of limitations had expired. In California, the statute of limitations in cases of personal injury for someone 18 years or older is two years. Jennifer Bandlow, Clarendon’s lawyer, said they would appeal the ruling, contending that in Clarendon’s case, the clock on the statute of limitations shouldn’t have started because her injuries did not manifest immediately. In fact, according to Bandlow, Clarendon did not begin to understand the alleged assault and its implications until she started therapy in 2017.

“Ms. Clarendon was assaulted in 2009 when she was 18 years old, and like many survivors, her psychological harm from the assault did not manifest until years later, in 2017,” Bandlow said. “This ruling effectively bars Ms. Clarendon, and others like her, from seeking civil redress of her psychological injuries.”

Outside the Lines has spoken at length with Clarendon, as well as with nearly a dozen other former Cal student-athletes and administrators, about their experiences with Muqtar. Many spoke on the record and are willing to put their names to their experiences. In total, the women paint a picture of someone they initially saw as a father figure and whom the Cal athletic department billed as a mentor and friend — a man who gradually earned, then shattered, their trust.

The question of what Cal Athletics knew about Muqtar’s behavior over the course of his nearly 25-year employment is still unanswered. Nearly all of the women OTL spoke with expressed incredulity at the possibility that everyone in the athletic department was in the dark, labeling Muqtar’s behavior an “open secret.”

For its part, Cal Athletics said it aimed to get to the bottom of this important question, offering the following: “Regarding whether we should have known about such allegations sooner, that is something we want to know and are looking into in order to gain an understanding of what did or did not occur previously.”

***

Clarendon started at Cal in 2009. Raised in San Bernardino, California, she chose Cal because it “just felt like home. It was the one place that felt like, when I stepped on campus, it was so eclectic and different.”

Like many Cal student-athletes, Clarendon was introduced to Muqtar on her recruiting visit. Once officially on campus, she began stopping by his office and hanging with him, as did so many of Cal’s student-athletes. According to Clarendon, as well as the other former student-athletes, Cal positioned Muqtar as the hub of the athletic community: He was well-connected, friends with famous Cal alumni such as former NBA star Jason Kidd and current NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “He was just the mayor in that way like he knew everyone … he made you feel good about yourself and made you feel like you were important when you were around him,” Clarendon said.

Technically, Muqtar was in charge of ensuring that student-athletes received their books. But according to Clarendon, student-athletes would often joke that they weren’t sure what Muqtar’s role was — besides hanging out with student-athletes in his office and in coffeehouses just off campus. He was a long-tenured member of the Cal athletic department yet never elevated past a midlevel position.

Muqtar’s former office in Haas Pavilion, which houses much of the athletic department, was situated between the men’s and women’s basketball facilities, making it a natural gathering place. But former Cal student-athletes say his appeal was more than proximity: He was charming, close with all of Cal’s high-profile athletes and donors, and the athletic department allegedly leaned on him to “grease the wheels” with football and men’s basketball recruits. One current employee of the Cal athletic department, who requested anonymity because of employment status, openly wondered why Muqtar was allowed to spend much of his time in coffeehouses, socializing with student-athletes. This employee said the answer was always, “That’s just Mo.”

Muqtar’s office was often filled with athletes, and Clarendon says she was frequently one of them during her freshman year. Soon, she was meeting Muqtar off campus, along with other student-athletes, for pizza. Muqtar, Clarendon says, would either get the meals comped by the restaurant or pick up the tab. (Both are violations of NCAA rules.) The more time Clarendon and Muqtar spent together, the more Muqtar allegedly began steering the conversation into more sexual territory. “There were times he would talk about inappropriate things, but at the moment, that felt like me talking to my friend, talking to someone I could trust,” Clarendon said. “So discussions about sex or who are you dating and what are you guys doing when you engage in sex … looking back now, I realize that’s very manipulative, and that was him opening the door, like slowly but surely gaining more and more of my trust.”

When asked about the possibility that Muqtar, in addition to his other alleged behavior, also violated NCAA rules, Cal responded, “The NCAA does provide some flexibility for coaches and staff to buy occasional meals for student-athletes. We have no reason to believe that meals were any more than occasional. Staff are expected to maintain ethical conduct at all times.”

But according to Clarendon, one night during her freshman year, Muqtar invited her back to his apartment to watch a music video. While there, Clarendon excused herself to the bathroom. She says Muqtar walked in on her, pinned her against the wall and digitally penetrated her. Clarendon remembers requesting to leave his apartment immediately after and Muqtar driving her home. While at Cal, Clarendon says, she never told anyone what happened.

Only years later, in therapy, while playing for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, did she begin processing the alleged assault, she says. In April 2017, she penned an essay for Mic titled, “As a sexual assault survivor, I walked alone in my shame for years.” Then, in January, she filed the aforementioned lawsuit, which also names Muqtar as a defendant.

“I have to regain my life back, in so many ways,” Clarendon said. “Because of this one incident that someone took, this one moment and — I don’t remember how long it lasted — but it doesn’t matter. It’s the violation of my body, my spirit and the person I am.”

When asked why she filed suit this year, Clarendon said it was because she doesn’t want to have to be a stranger to Cal anymore: “It puts all the onus on me to avoid Cal and to avoid the spaces that I’ve lived in, where I’ve worked so hard to become a college athlete and I worked so hard to get a degree from here and so hard to go to the Final Four. Now this is a space that doesn’t feel like it’s my own anymore. It feels like something that was taken from me.”

Clarendon also felt compelled to protect other young student-athletes, those just stepping on the Cal campus, from her alleged experience. And, according to the eight other former Cal female athletes who were contacted by OTL, Clarendon’s concern was valid. Many recalled similar experiences with Muqtar and were willing to tell their stories.

According to these interviews, Muqtar’s alleged behavior ranged from harassment — including late-night phone calls during which the women interviewed believed he was masturbating — to physical assault. Most stories had a similar pattern: a period of grooming followed by casual inquiries into sexual activity, late-night calls, masturbation (over the phone and in his office, with the door closed) and sometimes escalation to physical assault.

Tess McCoy (née Zatica) played volleyball for Cal from 1999 to 2004. According to McCoy, older teammates now remember being warned by previous teammates to “stay away from Muqtar.” But that whisper network did not reach McCoy’s class. Her allegations about Muqtar mirror that of so many others, including inappropriate sexual discussion and late-night calls. One night, McCoy says, she even found herself at Muqtar’s apartment. When he began rubbing her shoulders, she immediately left without saying anything. She never reported the interaction.

Another former Cal student, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, described how, over the course of several months, Muqtar took her under his wing. Then, one evening while he was giving her a ride in his car, he allegedly began moving his hand toward his crotch and said, “I think about these female athletes, and my d— gets hard,” according to the former student. She took this as an overture and immediately got out of the car. A former women’s basketball player, who requested anonymity on behalf of her family, alleges that Muqtar frequently called her late at night to discuss sex. He also allegedly masturbated in front of her while in his office at Haas Pavilion.

Kristy Patterson (née Begin) was a swimmer at Cal during the 1999-2000 season. Her swimming career was cut short because of three shoulder surgeries, and it was during this difficult period that she started spending more time with Muqtar. “His M.O. was to prey on those who were vulnerable,” she said. Patterson wrote a letter this month to Jay Larson, Cal’s senior associate athletic director of compliance and Muqtar’s former supervisor. In the letter, which was obtained by OTL, she included the following description of Muqtar’s alleged behavior: “He played puppet-master with personal relationships I had with other fellow student-athletes. He set up his prey by using other athletes as bait, falsely spreading rumors, upset those involved and would strike when the chaos level was just right. … He would call me late at night and ask me to give him details about how I liked to have sex, what I like to have done to me, and details about my partner and their body parts.”

Continued Patterson in the letter: “This entire situation should be an embarrassment to the UC Regents, and the University of Cal athletic department. Failing to recognize inappropriate relationships with athletes by its employees and failing to listen to prior complaints about Mohamed is completely unacceptable.”

One such prior complaint came from swimmer Jenna Rais, who competed for Cal from 2001 to 2004 and who says she noticed allegedly troubling behavior by Muqtar. On Jan. 13, 2010 — during Clarendon’s freshman year — Rais sent an email to, among other top athletic department officials, then-Cal chancellor Robert Birgeneau and then-athletic director Sandy Barbour. Within that email, which was obtained by OTL and which focused on detailing a separate issue, Rais warned of Muqtar’s alleged behavior. She said Muqtar “physically harassed” her in his office and “displayed verbally harassing and inappropriate behavior,” according to the email.

In addition, a former Cal instructor who frequently worked with student-athletes said that numerous student-athletes confided in her about what they alleged was inappropriate behavior by Muqtar. During her tenure, the instructor said, she twice approached athletic department officials — in 2006 and 2007 — with concerns about Muqtar. On both occasions, the instructor said she was told nothing could be done unless the women were willing to come forward with details. She spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the women who confided in her.

Many of the women who spoke on the record to Outside the Lines suggested that they have been in touch with numerous additional student-athletes — both current and former — who are not yet ready to speak openly about Muqtar. Clarendon, for her part, says her main objective in filing the lawsuit and speaking publicly is to prevent any future student-athletes from enduring similar harm.

“I don’t want it to be real,” Clarendon said. “I don’t want to acknowledge it. I even remember how hard it was to write those words: I’m a sexual assault survivor. These words still don’t feel like my own. And this is the hardest thing I’ve had to do.”



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