It’s not enough for Laura Mullen that influential volleyball coach Rick Butler has been banned for life by USA Volleyball, permanently disqualified by the Amateur Athletic Union and indefinitely suspended from participating in any Junior Volleyball Association-hosted or insured events due to multiple women accusing Butler of years-long sexual abuse.
According to Mullen’s attorney, Jay Edelson (who is representing Mullen pro bono), the main objective behind Mullen’s explosive class-action civil lawsuit filed against Butler, his wife Cheryl, and the Sports Performance Volleyball Club and Great Lakes Center Butler started more than three decades ago, is to prevent the Butlers from ever interacting with minors.
“If we can prove our allegations and we feel good about that the objective is, we think, that Butler and his wife should not be around kids,” Edelson told the Daily News. “This is not about money.”
Mullen, the lead plaintiff and whose daughter played for Butler at Sports Performance, filed the complaint in Illinois federal court Tuesday. Mullen accuses Butler and his wife of “deceiving parents and youth volleyball players to become members of the Sports Performance Volleyball Club based upon false information and material omissions of fact regarding Defendant Butler’s sexual abuse of underage girls.”
Butler, 63, has never faced criminal charges, even though abuse allegations were first levied against him more than 20 years ago. Christine Tuzi, Sarah Powers-Barnhard and Julie Romias all played volleyball for Butler in the 1980s when they were teenagers. All three women testified before a USA Volleyball ethics panel in 1995 that Butler sexually abused them when they were minors.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) also investigated Butler and determined in 1995 that “credible evidence supported an indicated report of abuse.” USA Volleyball banned Butler for life in 1995, but then reinstated him in an administrative capacity only five years later, in 2000. The second time Butler was banned for life from USA Volleyball occurred in January.
Tuzi told the Daily News in a 2016 interview that Butler impregnated her when she was a teenager, and then told her to “get rid of it.” The details of Tuzi’s abortion and the alleged physical and mental abuse she suffered at the hands of Butler are detailed in Mullen’s lawsuit, as is testimony from that ’95 USAV ethics hearing and details of the IDCFS investigation of Butler.
“Butler has sexually abused, as well as physically and emotionally abused, no fewer than six – and on information belief, numerous more – underage girls in his care,” the lawsuit filed by Mullen says.
The lawsuit provides graphic evidence of Butler’s alleged abuse and accuses him of rape several times. The suit describes one instance where Powers-Barnhard, then 16-years-old, was “summoned” to Butler’s house to “discuss a problem on the team.”
“After they had some food, Butler grabbed her hand and walked her to the bedroom, undressed her, and proceeded to rape her as she lay motionless in a terrified state,” the suit says, referring to the alleged incident involving Powers-Barnhard.
Butler did not return a call or email for comment to The News. Attorney Terry Ekl, who represented Butler in a separate legal matter, told The News that he is not Butler’s lawyer for the federal class-action suit. “Butler is in the process of hiring an attorney to represent him,” said Ekl.
Edelson said the next important stage in the class-action suit will be deposing Butler and his wife, a process Edelson said will happen soon.
“Rick has made a lot of statements, very general denials. He’s argued he’s wanted his day in court. We want him under oath,” said Edelson. “We want to see what he says. We are very eager to get that done as quickly as possible, and the same thing with his wife. That will be a key marker in the case.”
Although the JVA issued its indefinite suspension of Butler over the weekend of Feb. 10-11, the Mullen lawsuit claims that Butler “attended a JVA sanctioned tournament at the Great Lakes Center” in the weeks after the JVA ruling.
“(Butler) was viewed standing by the court that one of his teams was playing on and was in direct physical proximity to multiple young female volleyball players. On information and belief, Butler continues to coach youth players,” the lawsuit says.
Jenny Hahn, JVA’s executive director, responded to the claims in the lawsuit with the following statement to The News: “The JVA Board voted last month to indefinitely suspend Rick Butler from participating in all JVA-hosted and JVA-insured events. That suspension remains in place. Our understanding is that while Mr. Butler did attend the event, which was held at a facility he owns, he did not coach. We take this matter very seriously and expect all facilities that host a JVA event or use JVA insurance to abide by this suspension. It should be noted that JVA is not a sanctioning organization and follows the lead of the AAU on sanctions. Nonetheless, we expect our ban of Mr. Butler to be enforced. Groups and facilities that fail to abide by this decision run the risk of losing their JVA insurance and JVA’s position as a hosting organization.”
The suit accuses the Butlers of violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, which mirrors a lawsuit Powers-Barnhard filed in Florida state court against the AAU in 2016. That case is still open.
Edelson said that the #MeToo movement within the last six months has created an environment where abuse victims are more comfortable coming forward to tell their stories. He added that he thinks more victims of Butler may come forward in the future. Edelson also said the groundswell of voices against sexual abuse and sexual assault may have put more pressure on organizations like USA Volleyball to act.
“Our view is that a large number of adults in organizations have supported Butler and his club, either implicitly or explicitly,” said Edelson. “He has so much power in the volleyball community. People didn’t want to go against him. The reasons for the change we’re in a different era than we were even last year. A lot of adults are realizing, if you know of things, or have suspicions of things, you have to take action. I think that’s why there was so much pressure on these three organizations to finally step up and do the right thing.”