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Former Colorado Assistant Joe Tumpkin's Ex-Girlfriend Sues Over School's Failure To Report Abuse Allegations

Pamela Fine, the ex-girlfriend of former Colorado University assistant football coach Joe Tumpkin, is suing him in district court alongside several athletic department officials and school administrators. It has been almost nine months since she first came to head football coach Mike MacIntyre with allegations of domestic violence by Tumpkin and a little more than seven months since Tumpkin was asked to resign.

The suit names Tumpkin, MacIntyre, athletic director Rick George, chancellor Phil DiStefano, and university president Bruce Benson as defendants. Fine accuses them of wrongdoing including:

Tumpkin’s physical, psychological and verbal abuse of [Fine], Tumpkin’s supervisors’ disgraceful reaction and inaction following learning of Tumpkin’s abuse of [Fine] and the danger he posed to [Fine] as well as to the entire University community and beyond, and all Defendants’ willful and wanton lack of care, including MacIntyre’s decision, rather than to protect [Fine] once she notified him of Tumpkin’s abuse, instead to cover up the abuse, protect his football program and, in doing so, jeopardize [Fine’s] safety and well-being, all with the knowledge and complicity of the other Defendants.


Fine alleges in the suit that Tumpkin first abused her shortly after he was hired by Colorado as an assistant in February 2015. The two had met while Tumpkin was a defensive coordinator at Central Michigan and had been dating for more than a year at that point. Fine traveled to Colorado to visit Tumpkin at his university-provided temporary housing in a local hotel in his first month on the job. He reportedly “grabbed [her], threw her against the wall, threw her on the bed, choked her and blocked her ability to leave the hotel room. At one point, Tumpkin held [her] fully-packed suitcase over her head and threatened to throw it down on her head.”

Fine alleges that similar abuse occurred the following month in another university-provided hotel and repeatedly throughout the year and a half that followed. Tumpkin reportedly abused her several times at the local apartment that he soon began renting, and “multiple times during trips sponsored by or undertaken on behalf of the University for, among other things, events with boosters and recruiting events for the University football program.”


“Over the course of this time period,” the lawsuit goes on, “Tumpkin choked Plaintiff approximately one hundred times.”

During that time, Fine claims that she tried to leave Tumpkin—going back to Michigan and not contacting him for several months while he reportedly continued to text and call her “on a near-daily basis,” asking for another chance and promising that he had changed while sending gifts to her office. After five months away from him, Fine met Tumpkin on a university-sponsored trip to Texas in January 2016. She claims that he engaged in “physical, psychological and verbal abuse” in their hotel room after seeing another man talking to her at the hotel bar.


The abuse reportedly continued on several occasions, including once in Colorado in March 2016 when a neighbor called 911 after hearing a man repeatedly saying “I’m going to fucking kill you” and a woman begging him to stop. Police arrived and talked to Fine, but she did not reveal that any abuse was occurring. Other reported instances of abuse included pressing a phone into her jaw hard enough to move a dental implant during a visit to her home in Michigan and pushing her into a glass door and choking her on a university-sponsored recruiting trip to Florida. She spent several months away from him again, reportedly ignoring his repeated attempts to reconcile.

Fine claims that the last instance of abuse happened at Tumpkin’s apartment in Colorado in November 2016—“pushing [Fine] against the wall, choking her, and throwing her on the bed”—after which she left him for good. A few weeks later, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.


After breaking up with Tumpkin in November, Fine tried to contact MacIntyre several times “in order to obtain guidance regarding how best to protect herself and others who had contact with Tumpkin and regarding how to obtain help for Tumpkin.” She emailed him in early December asking to speak on the phone about something confidential, and when he did not respond in two days, she sent a Facebook message to his wife asking her to pass along the request. MacIntyre called Fine later that day, and they talked for more than 30 minutes. She reportedly shared the “history, pattern and specifics about Tumpkin’s violence” as well as details about what she felt was Tumpkin’s struggle with alcohol abuse.

MacIntyre did not share the allegations against Tumpkin with the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance or with law enforcement. Rather, according to the lawsuit:

Deciding to ignore his obligation to report Tumpkin’s abuse to designated University authorities and to law enforcement, MacIntyre instead turned to his own sports agent and outside legal counsel in an effort to protect himself, to take measures not to jeopardize his upcoming multimillion dollar contract extension with the University and to safeguard his own position within the Athletic Department.


MacIntyre proceeded to share what Fine had told him with George, the athletic director. He then blocked Fine’s number, the suit alleges, and told Tumpkin about her allegations in order “to help Tumpkin protect himself.” MacIntyre gave Tumpkin the contact information of Jon Banashek, “a University booster and an attorney who routinely represents University student-athletes in legal matters involving violence, sexual assaults and narcotics and alcohol-related violations.”

Tumpkin hired Banashek, who called Fine to offer her an apology from the assistant coach and some money to pay for her PTSD therapy. He asked her to tell him if she was considering reporting Tumpkin to law enforcement, and after she said that she did not want to share that with him, he called back two days later to say that there were “a lot of people on pins and needles” waiting for her move.


George soon shared the allegations with DiStefano, the chancellor. Still, none of them reported the information to parties such as the university’s Title IX coordinator or the police. DiStefano later told lawyers that he had not reported the allegations because he was “confused.” From the lawsuit:

That “excuse” is either preposterous or a blatant lie, because DiStefano, who has more than 40 years of experience at the University, supervised the University’s 2014 audit of Title IX compliance; supervised the creation of new policies for following the federal gender-equity law; hired a new head for the OIEC; and, as the Chancellor of the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, has sufficient knowledge and experience to take a leading role in working to develop a “uniform policy” for dealing with recruits and transfers with a history of sexual violence.


The day after Banashek called her the second time, Fine told MacIntyre that she would be going to the police to seek a temporary protective order against Tumpkin.

The next day, MacIntyre held a press conference to announce that he was promoting Tumpkin from assistant coach to defensive coordinator for the team’s upcoming appearance in the Alamo Bowl. (The previous defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, had just been hired away by Oregon.) MacIntyre told Benson, the university president, about the allegations. From the lawsuit:

Benson made the willful and wanton decision not to address the situation himself or to take any responsibility for assuring that the University’s Title IX Coordinator and law enforcement authorities were addressing the issue properly or that Plaintiff and others in the University community were protected from Tumpkin. Benson, sensitive to the pecuniary and reputational benefits of a post-season bowl victory, also took no steps to block, or even apparently to question, the promotion of Tumpkin to be Defensive Coordinator for the Alamo Bowl.


Three days later, Fine went to the police. She sought a temporary protection order the next day, a week and a half before the Alamo Bowl. Tumpkin coached in the game, which Colorado lost to Oklahoma State, 38-8.

A week after the bowl game, news of the restraining order became public when the Boulder Daily Camera asked the university for comment, and the school then decided to place Tumpkin on administrative leave. Three weeks later, they asked Tumpkin to resign. Before he did so, he had the opportunity to negotiate his severance, including additional salary for his role in coaching the Alamo Bowl. Police charged him a few days later with five felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, and three misdemeanors.


The next month, the university hired two separate law firms to review how school personnel had handled the allegations against Tumpkin. The final report, released in a redacted and truncated form in June, “among other poignant and sobering findings, found that University officials’ cover up or failure to report Tumpkin’s abuse could not be justified, not even by good intent, mistaken application of the policy, or simple ignorance.”


After the Board of Trustees were presented with the reports, they made the decision to send “letters of reprimand” to MacIntyre, George, and DiStefano and require sexual misconduct and intimate partner violence training for the three. Both MacIntyre and George made $100,000 donations to domestic violence groups in the local community, and DiStefano took 10 days of unpaid leave.

The lawsuit alleges that this was not enough:

Despite finding and acknowledging Defendants’ failures, both the University and its Board of Trustees failed to impose appropriate or adequate discipline or punishment, instead making a mockery of the University’s duties and obligations, the duties and obligations of the University’s top representatives, the concept of supervisory responsibility and the duties and responsibilities that University representatives owe to society generally and the University community specifically.


The lawsuit can be found in full below:

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