Russell Otis ordered to stand trial on molestation and theft charges
Former Compton Dominguez High basketball coach Russell Otis was ordered Friday to stand trial on charges that he attempted to molest one of his players and embezzled $15,000 intended for his team.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gary Hahn made that decision after listening to four days of testimony during a preliminary hearing in Compton. He ordered Otis, who is free on bail, to return to court July 6 for arraignment.
Hahn dismissed charges against Ernie Carr, the Compton Unified School District’s former athletic director, ruling that prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to support charges that he aided Otis in the theft of Nike sponsorship money.
Otis, 46, guided the Dominguez team to prominence during two decades as its head coach, winning 10 Southern Section championships and six state titles, and coaching three players who ended up in the NBA, including Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince and New Orleans Hornets center Tyson Chandler.
However, his on-court success has been marred by allegations of impropriety. He stands accused of sending sexually suggestive text messages to a player, now 17, and offering to pay the boy to engage in a sex act during a meeting at the boy’s home Aug. 31 of last year. Otis was accused of sodomizing a player in 2000 but acquitted at trial.
In addition, prosecutors allege that Otis used a forged authorization letter to deposit a $15,000 Nike sponsorship check to the school district into his personal checking account. The school district fired Otis, who also worked as a physical education teacher, this month. The district had fired Otis after the 2000 allegations and rehired him after his acquittal.
Otis’ attorney, Leonard Levine, urged Hahn to dismiss the charges, contending the boy’s allegations lacked corroboration and noting that none of the alleged text messages had been preserved. He argued that Otis had the permission of school officials to deposit the Nike check in his personal account and pointed to testimony that Otis spent thousands of dollars in cash on travel, equipment and meals for his players.
“We respect the court’s decision, but we disagree with it strongly,” Levine said.
Carr, 60, who this month resigned from his job, said he was relieved that the case against him was dismissed. Prosecutors had accused him of forgery and grand theft, maintaining that he helped produce a fraudulent authorization letter from Dominguez’s principal that Otis used to cash the Nike check.
“Being falsely charged doesn’t change the way I feel about myself or the good I’ve done over the last 36 years,” Carr said after the judge’s ruling.
Carr’s attorney, Michael Chaney, said he believed prosecutors brought the case in order to get the former athletic director to testify against Otis. Carr elected to fight the charges because neither he nor Otis did anything wrong, Chaney said.
“They made an offer and he was not prepared to lie for anything,” Chaney said.