Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton denies sex assault, says he did not grab, grope accuser

In his first response to allegations he sexually assaulted a former sports TV reporter, Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton has denied any attack occurred and contends that Kelli Tennant’s accusations are an attempt to attract media attention.

Tennant in April filed a lawsuit against Walton, accusing him of sexual battery in 2014 when he allegedly pushed her onto the bed in his Santa Monica hotel room and groped her.

In a document filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last week, Walton’s attorneys acknowledged that the two met at the hotel that day, but wrote that “Walton has a limited memory of the encounter,” and that “their encounter was very short, entirely pleasant and consensual, and did not involve any raised voices or grabbing/groping/restraining of her arms ... nor did it involve any awkwardness.”

Tennant had come to the hotel to drop off a book she had written, and in which Walton is listed as the author of the foreword. He was then an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors.

The two previously had worked for several months in Los Angeles for the same company, Spectrum Sports, where Walton was a sports commentator and Tennant was a reporter.

Tennant now runs a business as a womens’ self-help motivator and speaker.

Walton’s court filing said Walton did not write the foreword to her “pamphlet/book.” The book describes the issues involved in transitioning from being an athlete to post-athletic retirement. Tennant had been a star college volleyball player at USC.

The Sacramento Kings and the National Basketball Association have since launched an ongoing investigation into the incident. Walton, who was fired earlier this year as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, was hired by the Kings weeks before Tennant leveled her charges.

Walton is continuing as Kings coach pending the outcome of the review. The Kings issued a brief statement Monday declining to comment. “There is an ongoing independent investigation and we do not have any further comment at this time.”

In the court filing, Walton’s attorney Mark Baute calls Tennant’s claims “factually baseless” and said they were filed “because she needs money.” The attorney wrote that the visit between the two at the hotel “was entirely pleasant ... she was fine with it, and went on about her business as though nothing happened, because nothing of interest did happen.”

The attorneys accuse Tennant, of making the story up to get news media attention. They note that she did not report the incident to police.

Walton’s attorney contends Tennant cannot collect damages from Walton because she waited nearly five years to issue her complaint, beyond the statute of limitations for filing civil claims.

Tennant, in her lawsuit, said she went to drop off a copy of her book as a thank you to Walton, whom she said she considered a mentor. There, she said, he invited her up to his room, where he attacked her. She yelled at him to stop. He grabbed her a second time, she said, before she was able to escape.

Years after the alleged attack, when Walton was head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tennant was covering the team as a television reporter, Tennant alleges Walton reignited “painful wounds” by repeatedly hugging and kissing Tennant and putting his hands on her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable, Tennant alleges in the lawsuit.

“When he did so, Defendant Walton delivered a clear message to Ms. Tennant: he could dominate and control her, and she was his to put his hands on whenever he wanted,” the lawsuit contends.

Tennant said she tried to forget the episode but couldn’t. She is speaking now, she said, to help herself get past the emotional trauma, as well as to help other women, and so that Walton doesn’t get away with his behavior.

“This type of behavior cannot be condoned,” Tennant said during an April press conference. “And no woman should ever be made to feel like a victim.”

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Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.
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.