An assistant University of Rochester football coach who lost his job after the kidnapping and torture of two players is suing the school for comments that a university spokeswoman made to Outside the Lines for an investigation that detailed the harrowing story.
In his lawsuit filed in late August and served to the university within the past week, Dan Kyle is suing school spokeswoman Sara Miller and the university for defamation.
Kyle lost his job in 2015, soon after senior defensive lineman Nicholas Kollias and another teammate were kidnapped as part of a revenge plan gone awry. An Outside the Lines investigation that published and aired in June revealed how the two players were brutally tortured for more than 40 hours as payback for a drug robbery committed by a third Rochester football player, Isaiah Smith, a star linebacker.
Court documents obtained by Outside the Lines showed that Kyle, the assistant coach, signed Smith’s bond in 2015, releasing him from prison after he had been charged with robbery, burglary and assault. Smith was later sentenced to 13½ years in prison for orchestrating what police called a “brazen drug robbery,” in which his drug suppliers were attacked with a hammer in a successful attempt to steal four pounds of marijuana.
For the Outside the Lines story in June, Miller told ESPN in a written statement that Kyle acted alone when he bailed out Smith.
“No member of the administration, nor any coaches or university athletics staff members, asked Dan Kyle to sign for Smith’s release,” she wrote. “This was an unusual occurrence.”
In his lawsuit, Kyle alleges that at least three others from the football team were involved in Smith’s release. The lawsuit alleges “Smith made one or more calls to U of R football coaches from Monroe County Jail to discuss his arrest and bail” but never called Kyle while incarcerated over Thanksgiving weekend in 2015.
Instead, the lawsuit contends, “a higher ranking assistant coach” named Jacob Lees told Kyle about the arrest when Kyle arrived at work the following Monday. Lees has been with the team for 10 years and has served as defensive coordinator since 2012, according to his official university biography. Around 2 p.m. that Monday, the complaint alleges, Lees hung up the phone and informed Kyle “he was going downtown to bail Smith out of jail.”
Kyle claims he accompanied his fellow assistant coach “in Lees’ car to the Monroe County Hall of Justice,” but “Lees had difficulty finding parking,” according to the lawsuit. That’s when Kyle says he asked Lees if he wanted him “to hop out and go into the courthouse.” The lawsuit states Lees then directed Kyle “to go in and sign Smith’s bond.”
Lees told Kyle that he “should be looking for Dan Bronson and Kenyon ‘KJ’ Burnham — two of Smith’s friends and teammates on U of R’s football team — inside the Hall of Justice,” because “Bronson and Burnham raised nearly $1,500 for Smith’s bond but needed an adult over the age of 21 to sign the bond,” according to Kyle’s complaint. The lawsuit further claims, “Lees coordinated with Bronson and Burnham to sign Smith’s bond once Bronson and Burnham raised the money.”
Burnham is a senior offensive lineman; Bronson is a senior wide receiver.
When Smith was arrested in 2015, Bronson was the team’s quarterback and all three players were sophomores. Bronson and Smith were once college roommates, according to two sources familiar with the case. While Burnham did not respond to repeated requests for comment, Bronson did tell Outside the Lines, “I have been advised to make no comment as it regards to a pending legal proceeding; other than to state that neither K.J. nor myself were involved in raising any money for a bond. That is absolutely not true.”
In an email, Kyle’s attorney, Brendan Reyes, clarified that “it was Mr. Kyle’s belief and understanding that the players had arranged to pay the bail bondsman and that one of the coaches would sign the bond. Mr. Kyle did not pay any money, from any source, to secure Isaiah Smith’s bond. Mr. Kyle does not have any specific knowledge that the two players raised the money and, therefore, has no reason to doubt Mr. Bronson’s statement.”
Kyle does not dispute that he signed the bond for Smith’s release. Instead, his lawsuit details what he claims happened in the minutes and days afterward.
After meeting with Burnham and Bronson, Kyle “went to the jail records office to wait for Smith’s release,” where he “texted Lees discussing the long wait time.” The two assistant coaches, according to Kyle, agreed that “Lees could go back to campus, as the coaches were responsible for opening the weight room for the players at 4:15 P.M.” Lees drove back to the campus. Kyle says he got a ride back with the two sophomore players.
Later that afternoon, the lawsuit claims Kyle “received text messages from Lees thanking” Kyle “for helping to free Smith from jail.” Scott Greene, the team’s head coach, also called Kyle that day, “and thanked him for signing Smith’s bond,” according to Kyle’s complaint. Greene also spoke to Kyle about setting their troubled player up with a criminal defense attorney.
Before airing its investigation, Outside the Lines repeatedly asked school spokeswoman Miller for on-camera interviews with Greene, university president Joel Seligman and campus security staff about their response to the kidnapping and Smith’s arrest. Miller declined. But she did provide written responses to several questions, including the statement about Kyle acting alone when he bailed Smith out of jail.
Kyle claims the statement “caused substantial embarrassment and emotional suffering” and says the statement makes it “extremely unlikely” Kyle “will find another job in the coaching field.” The lawsuit states Kyle “fears that, based on Miller’s defamatory statement, potential employers will conclude that he has poor judgment and that he is unprofessional.”
Kyle also repeatedly declined request for comment before publication of the Outside the Lines investigation, which featured surveillance video showing the victims of the hammer attack covered in blood as they left an on-campus apartment building. The investigation also spotlighted police evidence photos and cell phone video showing how Kollias was shot and, along with a second teammate, tortured with a rifle, rebar, a plunger, a clothing iron and other household implements four days after Smith was bailed out of jail.
Reyes also played football for Rochester under Greene about a decade ago. He said his client’s lawsuit is a way “to reveal the truth and clear his name,” because “the university’s statement singled Mr. Kyle out and suggested that he acted without the knowledge or approval of any other member of the administration or coaching staff.”
Greene announced his resignation, effective at season’s end, on Tuesday. It’s unclear whether the resignation had anything to do with the lawsuit.
When asked for comment about the lawsuit, Miller wrote in an email that the university and its employees, including Greene, Seligman, Lees and herself, “will not be commenting on pending or active legal matters.”
Greene and Lees did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Greene became head coach at Rochester in 2006 and has a career record of 50-60. The school’s website indicates Greene will remain in that position until the conclusion of the 2017 season but that this will be his final year with the Yellowjackets, who are 3-2 this season.