Two football players who were falsely accused of rape are now suing the school and the female student who made the claims against them.
Dhameer Bradley and Malik St. Hilaire are suing Sacred Heart University (SHU) and Nikki Yovino for slander and infliction of emotional distress over the false accusation. SHU suspended the students from the football team after the accusations, which turned out to be false, and say their scholarships were revoked (the school disputes this claim).
Yovino was already sentenced to (only) one year in prison for her crime, after a last-minute plea deal. She was facing up to six years in prison for second-degree false reporting of an incident and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.
On Oct. 15, 2016, Yovino told police she had attended a football club party at a house near the university. She claimed two men pulled her into a bathroom in the basement and sexually assaulted her.
"I don't want to be in here, I don't want to do anything. My friends are waiting for me outside, let me go outside," Yovino told police she said to the men.
Both football players admitted they had sex with Yovino, but said it was consensual. A witness testified that Yovino said she wanted to have sex with the athletes. Police detectives all noted “inconsistencies in [Yovino’s] original statement.”
As Yovino’s story began to unravel, she admitted to making up the sexual assault claim three months later. She said she did so to avoid losing a male friend she considered a “potential boyfriend.”
"She admitted that she made up the allegation of sexual assault against (the football players) because it was the first thing that came to mind and she didn’t want to lose (another male student) as a friend and potential boyfriend," the arrest warrant affidavit for Yovino stated. "She stated that she believed when (the other male student) heard the allegation it would make him angry and sympathetic to her."
The Associated Press reports the two former football players “are seeking an undisclosed amount of money.” It is unlikely they would be able to collect much from Yovino, since she likely has few, if any, assets as a college-age woman, but they could collect from SHU.
SHU is likely to fight the lawsuit, as it has disputed some of the former player’s claims. The players say their scholarships were revoked, but the schools says this is untrue. The Connecticut Post, however, reported in 2017 that a police detective said a university official had mentioned the suspension. Further, the detective reported in Yovino’s arrest affidavit that one of the players “lost a year of NCAA sports eligibility and his Division 1 NCAA football scholarship.” SHU also disputes this.
“The federal Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act prevents us from providing information about specific students. However, I can say that some of the early information that was released is inaccurate,” SHU communications director Deb Noack told the Post. “Sacred Heart never expelled the two students nor was any student stripped of scholarships because of any allegations.”
The students withdrew from the university after they say they were removed from the football team and suffered these other consequences.