Sacramento Kings

Lawyer: Sexual assault allegations against Kings coach Luke Walton are ‘baseless’

Meet Luke Walton, the Sacramento Kings’ new head coach

The Sacramento Kings hired former Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton to a four-year deal on April 13, 2019. Walton replaces Dave Joerger, who was fired after three seasons.
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The Sacramento Kings hired former Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton to a four-year deal on April 13, 2019. Walton replaces Dave Joerger, who was fired after three seasons.

An attorney representing Kings coach Luke Walton issued a statement late Monday night strongly denying sexual assault allegations against his client.

Mark Baute issued the statement to The Sacramento Bee after TMZ reported a woman is suing Walton over an encounter in a Santa Monica hotel room. Kelli Tennant, who used to work for Spectrum Sportsnet LA, alleged in court documents that Walton pinned her down on the bed in his room, forcibly kissed her face, neck and chest, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations,” Baute told The Bee. “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

Baute has represented Derrick Rose, another NBA star accused of sexual assault in 2013.

The TMZ report did not specify when the alleged sexual assault occurred, but Walton was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors at the time, according to the website.

Walton was introduced as the Kings’ new coach last week. The Kings released a brief written statement saying, “We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

The Lakers also issued a written statement, saying they were previously unaware of Tennant’s allegations.

“This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers,” the team said in its statement. “At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”

The Warriors issued a statement as well, saying: “We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

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According to TMZ, Tennant alleged in legal documents the assault occurred after she went to Walton’s hotel to drop off a book she had published. Walton, who had a business relationship with Tennant for several years, wrote the foreword for the book.

Tennant alleged that when they got to Walton’s room, Walton suddenly pinned her down on the bed with his hips and legs over her body, TMZ said. Tennant said she tried to free herself and screamed at Walton to stop, but he held her down, kissing and groping her before eventually relenting.

Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica in April 2019. Sports reporter Kelli Tennant says in a court filing that newly signed Kings head coach Luke Walton sexually assaulted her at the hotel when he was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors. Benjy Egel

Tennant got up and walked toward the door, but Walton grabbed her from behind and again forced his body against hers, according to TMZ. Tennant said when Walton finally released his grasp, she opened the door and left. As she was leaving, she heard Walton say: “Good to see you.”

The TMZ report noted Tennant did not report Walton’s actions when they occurred and it is unclear, based on legal documents, what prompted her to come forward with the allegations now.

A representative for Tennant’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian, declined to provide a copy of the suit to The Bee. Mardirossian has represented clients in two significant police use-of-force cases.

Tennant continued to interact with Walton following the alleged incident due to her job, according to TMZ. She alleged that each time she saw Walton, he forced himself on her with hugs and kisses and once uttered “vulgar, guttural sounds at her,” saying, “mmmm ... you’re killing me in that dress,” TMZ reported.

According to a 2018 story in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Tennant spent five years with the Time Warner and then Spectrum SportsNet networks, where she worked on baseball, basketball and soccer telecasts and studio shows. Tennant reportedly left Spectrum in the fall of 2017 and shut down her social media accounts for a few months.

She resurfaced as an anchor for Amazon Prime’s coverage of the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour, according to the Press-Enterprise. She also launched a podcast, “The Platform,” delving into women’s issues, including wellness, workplace issues and self-acceptance.

Walton spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the Warriors from 2014-16. He was named head coach of the Lakers in April 2016. After three seasons, the Lakers announced they had mutually agreed to part ways with Walton on April 12, just 24 hours after the Kings fired former coach Dave Joerger.

The Kings contacted Walton immediately and finalized a four-year agreement the next day following a face-to-face meeting between Walton and Kings general manager Vlade Divac. Walton’s wife, Bre Ladd, attended his introductory news conference April 15 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

Walton met his wife while they were attending the University of Arizona. Walton was a star player on the basketball team. Ladd was a standout volleyball player. They got married in August 2013.

Walton spent 10 years in the NBA before starting his coaching career. Walton was playing for the Lakers in 2008 when a woman was charged with stalking Walton. According to the Los Angeles Times, Stacy Elizabeth Beshear pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to three years probation. At one point, Beshear reportedly pulled up next to Walton’s car and “pretended to fire gunshots at him with her hand.”

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Jason Anderson is an award-winning sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee. He started his journalism career at The Bee more than 20 years ago and returned to cover the Sacramento Kings in September 2018.