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Dominguez coach on leave amid inquiry

Otis, who has built elite basketball program, is focus of undisclosed criminal probe and barred from campus.

September 25, 2008|Lance Pugmire and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Russell Otis, the longtime Compton Dominguez High boys' basketball coach who has built one of the state's most dominant programs, is being investigated for alleged criminal misconduct and has been placed on administrative leave, officials said Wednesday.

"We are looking into allegations of misconduct with this individual," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said. "I can't say anything more because it's an ongoing investigation."

Otis, 46, has directed Dominguez to 10 Southern Section championships and six state titles since 1988, doing so with stars that include NBA players Tyson Chandler (New Orleans Hornets) and Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons).

A school district official declined to explain why Otis was suspended.

"Coach Otis has been placed on a paid administrative leave," Byron Isaac, the district's associate superintendent for human resources, said in a statement. "The district took action this week as part of a personnel-related matter and, due to district personnel procedures regarding confidentiality, cannot comment further at this time."

The coach, barred from campus since Monday, is "very angry at once again being involved in an investigation in which he's done nothing wrong, and he's anxious to get it cleared," said Leonard Levine, Otis' attorney.

Levine said he is uncertain about the focus of the criminal and school district probes but "assumes" it is related to contact with a student. He said late Wednesday afternoon Otis has not been interviewed by law enforcement authorities.

"No one has told him what it's about -- he's done nothing wrong -- but there's been some allegation and this is what they have to do -- investigate," Levine said. "We will cooperate with any investigation and we expect him to be cleared. This is nothing more than some allegation that is not true, and he hopes he can get back soon to doing what he does best: coaching kids playing basketball."

Otis' leave comes eight years after he was removed as the Dons' coach while facing criminal charges he molested a former boys' player. He was acquitted by a Los Angeles County jury and returned to the Dons' bench in 2002.

Dominguez's longtime assistant coach Andre Flowers will serve as the interim coach in Otis' absence, the district announced. Flowers was seen huddling with other coaches and players inside the gymnasium Wednesday afternoon.

In a brief conversation with The Times, Flowers said he was planning a "pickup practice" and hadn't immediately informed the team of Otis' suspension, which took effect Monday.

Dominguez Principal Joy Bramlette then approached Flowers, conferring with him briefly before entering the gymnasium to address Otis' absence with the Dons. Bramlette's secretary referred questions to the district.

Gloria Watts, the foster mother of Dominguez forward Robert Mandingo, said she hadn't been informed of the district's discipline of Otis.

Thurman Woods Sr., the father of a Dominguez senior forward, said: "I don't know what's going on and had no indication there was [trouble] -- never, not one time," Woods said. "But any parent would want more answers."

The boys' basketball coaches at other Compton schools were surprised by the news.

"I'm in shock," Compton Centennial High Coach Vadim Malikin said.

"I hope everything works out for him," Compton High Coach Tony Thomas said. "I like the competition between our programs."

Other rival coaches have long complained about Otis' continual use of players who transfer from other schools to play for his Nike-sponsored program, including 2007-08 Southern Section champions Jordan Hamilton and Dominick LaCoste.

Otis maintains his program's success draws talented athletes, and that he obeys Southern Section rules.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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