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Basketball coach called 'predator' at trial

Prosecutor tells jurors Russell Otis used his position at Dominguez High in Compton to pressure a player into a sexual encounter. Otis' attorney calls him a hero and says player made up the story.

October 02, 2009|Lance Pugmire

Russell Otis was "a predator" who used his position as boys basketball coach at Compton's Dominguez High School to try and pressure one of his young players into a sexual encounter with him, a prosecutor alleged in court Thursday.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan King said Otis didn't use a gun or a knife to get his way. The coach's weapon, King said, "was his position of authority."

King's comments came during the opening day of Otis' trial on charges that he made unwanted sexual advances to a player and misappropriated a $15,000 check from Nike into his personal bank account.

Otis has pleaded not guilty.

His attorney, Leonard Levine, told jurors that Otis was a "hero" who looked out for his players in one of the Southland's poorest, most violent communities.

"People like to bring heroes down, don't they?" Levine said.

Otis, who was fired from Dominguez High earlier this year, was an accomplished coach who won five California Interscholastic Federation state titles and 10 Southern Section championships since 1987 -- a tenure interrupted for a year when Otis went on trial on charges that he had sex with a reserve shooting guard in 2000. Otis was acquitted in that case.

On Thursday, King told jurors that Otis was held in high esteem in the community for his winning program, but that he abused that respect and the power that had been entrusted to him as coach.

King alleged that Otis made unwanted sexual advances to a player one night in August 2008. On that night, he exchanged "some 300 text messages" with the player between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., King alleged.

Ultimately, the coach met the player outside the boy's home, King said. Otis then offered the player $1,500 to let him attempt an "experiment" to arouse the boy sexually, King alleged. The boy testified at a preliminary hearing that he told the coach no.

Levine told jurors that the boy knew about the abuse allegation against Otis in 2000 and made up the story because he wanted to transfer to another school's basketball program.

"He needed a hardship waiver," Levine said. "The evidence will show he makes up a story."

Levine said Otis texted the player only because "he's intimately involved" with his team, and because "texting doesn't cost a thing, it's unlimited."

"Trust what you hear, and you'll come to the same conclusion that was drawn after [Otis'] first trial," Levine told the panel.

As for the Nike money, Levine said, Otis had grown frustrated that in previous years the money had been deposited into a student-body account for purposes other than the basketball program where it was supposed to go.

Levine said Otis had the approval of the acting principal to deposit the funds in his personal account. The coach, who -- according to records -- was paid a district salary of $89,312 in 2008, spent all of the $15,000 on his team, Levine said.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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