ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned the Arizona couple that countersued Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner for sexual assault has preserved a piece of evidence they claim has Pastner's DNA on it.
At this point, Pastner has declined DNA testing, with his legal team telling Channel 2 Action News they advised him against it because the couple recently admitted to their previous lawyers that the evidence, a T-shirt, never contained Pastner's semen.
“There may be strategic reasons why Mr. Pastner’s attorneys have decided not to do it, and he may not be guilty at all,” said the couple’s new attorney, Brian Weinberger. “I just know from my own experience that’s something I would do to prove my innocence as soon as possible.”
The accuser, Jennifer Pendley, said she wore the white T-shirt on the evening of the alleged 2016 assault in a Houston hotel room.
Pendley is the girlfriend of Ron Bell, a former friend of Pastner's. Late last year, Bell told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Nicole Carr that he facilitated illegal recruiting and retainment efforts on Pastner's behalf.
The interview was in November 2017 as two Georgia Tech players were suspended for accepting gifts and violating NCAA rules. Georgia Tech said neither Pastner nor his staff were made aware of the gifts by an unidentified person, who was not a university booster. Pastner self-reported the violations in October of 2017, when he said he found out about them.
When the news broke, Bell came out to a national outlet and Carr, saying not only did Pastner know about the violations, but he ordered them. Bell told Carr he did not receive a job Pastner promised him with Georgia Tech.
In January, Pastner sued the couple for defamation, claiming an attempt to extort the high-profile coach. Less than a month later, they countersued alleging Pastner sexually assaulted Pendley and continued to harass her in the months to come.
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Details of alleged assault, Georgia Tech’s investigation and questions of credibility
According to court records filed in Pima County, Arizona, Pastner, his wife Kerri, Pendley and Bell were in Houston on Feb. 9, 2016. At the time, Pastner coached the University of Memphis Tigers. The team was in Texas to take on the University of Houston.
The narrative goes on to detail Pastner, Pendley and Bell in the same hotel room late on the evening of Feb. 9. When Bell got up to shower, Pendley said Pastner pulled up a chair to the side of the bed where Pendley remained seated from the group’s earlier conversation.
Pendley said Pastner stood up and began to perform a sexual act on himself before grabbing Pendley’s head and pulling her toward him. Pendley said Pastner’s bodily fluids were on her, and Bell could not hear her call out for him because he was listening to music during his shower.
Pendley did not tell Bell about the incident until October of that year, nor did she report it to police.
She went on to allege inappropriate touching in the months to come.
Until this week, there were questions as to whether the shirt Pendley claimed as evidence even existed.
The couple’s former attorneys, Paul Gattone and Ashley Gilpin, dropped them as clients over the summer, telling the courts the couple may have exaggerated their claims. The couple initially would not turn over the evidence to the attorneys for inspection.
Pendley told the lawyers it was because the shirt was in a safe box that only Bell could access. She revealed this in a jailhouse conversation from earlier this year. Bell was incarcerated at the time after a March arrest in connection with a nearly 20-year-old theft warrant out of Cobb County.
His arrest and extradition to Georgia came shortly after the couple countersued for sexual assault, and they believed it to be retaliation facilitated by Pastner and his legal team.
During the phone calls, Bell was heard berating Pendley and trying to make sure she can get him out of jail. He told her she’d blown a million dollars, referencing the lawsuit, and that he would back Pastner “100 percent” when he got out of jail.
“Nicole, I don’t know what to make of those conversations,” Weinberger told Carr when asked about the phone calls. “He was clearly agitated about that (retaliation claim) and understandably so, and there was concern at the time about his medication. He does take medication and he wasn’t given it.”
A text message transcription submitted to the courts by Pastner’s attorneys shows Bell telling Gattone the couple never claimed Pastner’s bodily fluids to be on the T-shirt.
Weinberger said the access Pastner’s legal team had to the client communication illustrates why the couple did not trust Gattone enough to hand over the evidence. He described what Gattone told the courts when he pulled out of the case.
“This attorney’s motion went into excruciating detail about conversations between him and his clients, which from a professional responsibility standpoint was very surprising," Weinberger said. “Even more surprising was that after this attorney had withdrawn from the case, he was actually communicating with the opposing lawyers, with Pastner’s attorneys, sending him text messages that were between him and Mr. Bell.”
Additionally, Weinberger said the case files transferred to him from Gattone’s practice included plenty of unopened mail related to the case. That included envelopes from Fisher Phillips, the New Orleans-based independent investigators that Georgia Tech called on for the Title IX investigation into Pastner.
This, Weinberger said, casts doubt on their previous attorney's effort to even alert the couple to Fisher Phillips’ interview request.
In correspondence dated May 21, the firm cleared Pastner of sexual assault claims, noting that Bell and Pendley “were invited to participate in an interview as part of this investigation, but their attorney declined to make them available or otherwise provide any requested information."
“I think they were aware that their information was desired, but they were relying on their attorney to be the manager of how that information got out,” Weinberger said.
Weinberger was retained last month, weeks before the couple was required to submit legal filings in the case to move forward.
At the time, more than 50 attorneys had declined to represent them.
“The first time they came to see me, they brought the T-shirt,” Weinberger said.
Email correspondence between Pastner’s attorney, Scott Tompsett, and Weinberger showed the couple’s attorney trying to coordinate efforts to turn Pendley’s shirt over to an independent lab for testing.
Tompsett echoed much of what he said in the statement to Channel 2 Action News regarding the couple's credibility. He did not respond to a July 20 email in a second attempt by Weinberger to agree to testing.
The shirt is now in a Richmond, California, lab for preservation.
The Sole Witness
In addition to the development concerning the shirt as potential evidence, the sole witness to one of Pendley’s claims, a security guard, recanted his story in a sworn statement this week. During a deposition, he said he’d lied about seeing an alleged encounter between Pastner and Pendley because he was pressured by the couple and promised a portion of their lawsuit settlement earnings in exchange for his testimony.
The revelation came after a July 25 letter sent to the young security guard by Pastner’s attorney, threatening to sue him for defamation if he did not retract his prior statements and respond to the letter by the next day.
Chris Meegan was an Atlanta-based CSC security guard in November of 2016, nine months after Pendley said the hotel assault occurred.
At the time, Georgia Tech contracted CSC for services, and Meegan initially told several attorneys, including Schneider, the school’s independent investigator, that he’d witnessed something between Pastner and Pendley during the pre-game shutout of a home game against Ohio in McCamish Pavilion, according to court records.
Meegan was walking toward the court, he told Schneider in a transcript of the April 2018 interview.
“Yep and everyone else walking up to the pre-game meal and I am walking down, I kind of turned around and was at the bottom of the stairs and then turned around to head back up, and I seen coach and Jennifer and Ron were there, and they were kind of at the back of the pack and everything, and if I remember, Ron was in front, the Jennifer and Coach was the last one," Meegan said.
Meegan went on to say, "I saw what looked like it could have just been a friendly pat of the butt kind of thing, or playful grab, but I didn’t think anything of it knowing they were friends, you know. I know I have friends, as I’m sure you do, who kind of sometimes playfully grab or hit a butt so I didn’t think anything of it because I knew there was a, or I at least though there was a friendship there.”
Schneider asks Meegan if he saw Pastner’s hand actually touch Pendley’s butt, and Meegan goes on to say the group was in the 100 level seating bowl heading up to the pre-game meal, while he was on the court.
“I could tell that the hand was close to her, but I….you know, I couldn’t technically tell whether or not it had made contact, but it looked to me like it did. If that makes sense. I saw the hand make a motion towards the butt….”
Later, during the game, Meegan told the investigator he saw Jennifer come out of bathroom.
“And I noticed she looked a little upset and uncomfortable and just said, 'Hey are you OK?' And she kind of you know….That’s when she kind of said to me that she was OK or she just didn’t want to be around Josh at the time, and that’s all she had said to me.”
Meegan retained Marietta-based representation paid for by CSC Security. In the letter threatening a defamation suit, Tompsett pointed out that Meegan wasn’t working on the day of the alleged incident, which Pendley told the courts happened on Nov. 22, 2018.
But the Ohio game was four days earlier on the 18th. Meegan was working, and Weinberger said he was unsure of how Pendley got the date wrong for court records.
While Weinberger told the courts Pastner's legal team was using smear tactics, and essentially intimidating people who would aid the couple in any way, Tompsett said this much in the rest of his statement to Channel 2 Action News on Thursday, sticking with the court-documented timelines.
“What the public should know is that the young man’s attorney and his father fully supported his retraction,” the statement read. "Moreover, Georgia Tech’s independent investigator concluded…that the young man’s witness statement was not credible, that he could not have witnessed the fake assault because he was not even in Georgia on the day Pendley claims she was assaulted….”
Both parties head back to court in Arizona next week. Pastner’s legal team will “ask the court to impose sanction on Pendley for lying to the court,” their statement read.
Cox Media Group