Sports

Sexual assault allegations cloud Puig’s MLB fate

Major League Baseball investigators have interviewed a woman who said free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig sexually assaulted her in a Staples Center bathroom, but have not taken further steps due to her desire to remain anonymous and are awaiting further evidence to emerge from the lawsuit, an MLB source told ESPN.

With the start of baseball season weeks away, Puig, 30, remains without a job, at least partly because of the allegation, according to a source in one team’s front office.

The woman, identified in federal court documents only as Jane Roe, sued Puig last October, saying the former Dodgers outfielder followed her into a bathroom during an October 2018 Lakers game, “pinned her with one arm” to prevent her from leaving, groped her and masturbated in front of her.

The woman did not file a police report, Puig has not been charged with any crime. He denies the allegations in a court filing, which also asks a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

A number of teams that reportedly expressed interest in Puig this spring have factored the allegations into their decisions.

“Nobody wants the headache,” the front-office source told ESPN.

Puig’s attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit or make Puig available for comment. His agent Rachel Luba also declined to comment.

In November, an attorney with Major League Baseball interviewed the woman who is suing Puig and provided her with a list of resources available to victims of sexual assault, the woman’s attorney, Taylor Rayfield, told ESPN.

Rayfield said that in a follow-up to the November interview with her client, an attorney with Major League Baseball told her the league would be unable to investigate the matter further because the woman declined to provide her name.

Major League commissioner Rob Manfred can discipline players for acts of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse and has done so more than a dozen times since the league adopted a new policy in 2015.

“They claim to have a personal conduct policy. Well, what could possibly violate that more than what happened here?” Rayfield said, adding, “I would like to see them take action against players and hold them accountable and not allow people to be a part of their organizations that are sexual and physical abusers.”

A MLB source confirmed that an investigator spoke to the woman. The source also said Puig has not been interviewed about the accusations, because MLB typically does not approach a player until after conducting a thorough investigation. The case remains open, and the source said MLB investigators are waiting to see what details emerge from the lawsuit.

In an interview with ESPN, the woman spoke at length about her encounter with Puig.

ESPN does not typically identify people involved in sexual assault cases unless they have chosen to go public with their names. The woman, 32 and from California, told ESPN she owns a business that places her in contact with several professional athletes. She asked to go by “Jane” for the purposes of the interview.

Jane said she first met Puig in the Chairman’s Room, a room under the stands of the Staples Center’s south end accessible only to fans with floor-level seats and a short list of VIPs and celebrities who routinely attend Lakers games. Jane attended the game with two other people, a friend and her fiancée.

She said she’d never met Puig and didn’t recognize him when he first approached her at halftime, made a comment about the hat she was wearing and struck up a conversation.

“He was just trying to engage with me. He was being flirty,” she said.

Minutes later, Jane said, Puig, who at that point was standing across the room, motioned to her, pointing to his eyes with two fingers and then toward her as if to say: “I’m watching you.” She said she dismissed the interaction as more harmless flirtation.

After the game, Jane went to the bathroom, where she said Puig followed her and physically restrained her by pinning her with his forearm. The lawsuit states that Puig attempted to take her clothes off, groped her, exposed himself and then masturbated in front of her.

Later that same evening, Puig sent Jane a text message that read: “Private between me and me [sic] everything that happens no one has to know,” according to a transcript of text messages that appears in court documents. It was the first of several texts Puig sent over the following days in an attempt to meet Jane privately, she said.

Jane said she can’t recall precisely when she gave Puig her phone number but that it wouldn’t have been unusual for her to do so, given her line of work.

She never went to the police largely because she tried to forget the incident, according to her attorney. Jane says she spoke only with her fiancée and younger brother about what had happened to her.

Jane’s brother told ESPN he remembers getting a call either the evening of the game or the next day and being surprised to hear his sister “distraught.” He said at first she only relayed partial details.

“She was like, ‘Yeah, he was obsessed with me and followed me into the bathroom.’ It sounded to me just like he was being a super creepy dude trying to get at her,” Jane’s brother said.

He said he remembers his sister describing Puig as “intimidating” and “aggressive” and that Jane “was super scared,” but he said Jane never went so far as to describe a sexual assault.

It was only after the lawsuit was filed in October and the media coverage that followed, mostly in the Los Angeles area, that her brother became aware of the full extent of the allegations, he said.

In the weeks and months that followed the alleged incident at the Staples Center, Jane said, each day felt like “there was a nightmare playing” in her brain. She said the encounter made her more irritable and quick to snap, which her brother said he also noticed, and placed a strain on her relationship with her fiancée. Jane also said she lost her sense of personal security.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t use a restroom in public places cause I was scared someone was going to follow me in there. And, when you start thinking about things like that, it reshapes your entire world…. When you do that, it’s almost like you’re paranoid everywhere you go.”

In a January filing seeking to get the lawsuit dismissed, Puig’s attorneys argued that Jane failed to meet the legal burden “to establish that anonymity is appropriate.” The filing said anonymity is granted “only in the rare case where the need for anonymity outweighs the prejudice to the defendant and the right to open courts.”

Puig’s lawyers argue that by allowing Jane to maintain her anonymity it “gives unjustified credence” to her allegations and “the effect of all of these statements is to convict Mr. Puig in the court of public opinion, before Mr. Puig even has an opportunity to defend himself.”

In a response, Rayfield filed court documents that describe the efforts to reveal her client’s identity as “nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by Defendant Puig to humiliate, harass, and punish [Jane] …in hopes she will drop her claims against him.”

“I think that it’s an intimidation tactic,” Jane said. “I feel like I’m being targeted. I feel like I’m being revictimized again and I don’t understand why someone would do that.”

The risk of being publicly identified is a “huge deterrent to survivors coming forward,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. In focus groups and surveys, “anonymity always comes up number one” on survivors’ list of concerns, he said.

While Jane’s lawsuit continues, Puig remains without a job.

Puig burst onto the scene with the Los Angeles Dodgers in June 2013, leading the Majors with a .436 batting average that month and winning National League player of the month honors.

Puig was twice arrested for reckless driving in 2013, and in 2015 MLB investigated him after he fought with a bouncer and was accused of shoving his sister in a Miami bar. No charges resulted, and he was not disciplined.

He last wore a Major League uniform in 2019, when he appeared in 100 games for the Cincinnati Reds. Puig went on to play 49 games with the Cleveland Indians after a mid-season trade. He didn’t play at all during the abbreviated 2020 season other than five games in the Dominican Winter League. His positive COVID-19 test in July scuttled a potential deal he was expected to sign with the Atlanta Braves.

A federal judge in California is considering the motion to dismiss and the question of Jane’s anonymity. Attorneys from both sides said they do not know when the judge will rule. Jane said her decision to file the lawsuit was motivated in part by a desire to hold Puig accountable.

“I felt like he was a predator towards me and someone with that mindframe could do that to someone else. Honestly, I just don’t want him to be able to do this to somebody else. At the end of the day, that’s what I want.”

If you are the victim of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or go to https://www.rainn.org, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

ESPN reporter T.J. Quinn contributed to this report.

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