Seeking justice for alleged abuse, victim of Colorado assistant confronts big-time college football
- The alleged victim of Colorado assistant coach Joe Tumpkin tells her story of pain and perseverance to seek justice.
On Dec. 9, 2016, Trisha MacIntyre, the wife of Colorado football head coach Mike MacIntyre received a Facebook message from the girlfriend of Joe Tumpkin, an assistant coach on her husband’s staff.
“Hi Trisha!” wrote the woman, whom we’ll call Jane. “I am sorry that I missed seeing you when I was in for the Washington State game ... I have an important issue regarding Joe that is sensitive and confidential ... Could you please ask [Mike] to call me at his earliest convenience ... I apologize for using you as the messenger....”
The MacIntyres knew Jane and they were friendly with each other. Like the MacIntyres, Jane was in her early 50s but seemed 10 years younger. She had emailed Mike MacIntyre two days earlier to ask the coach to call her regarding a “very confidential concern” about Tumpkin, who coached the Buffaloes safeties, but Jane had not received a response. When Trisha received the message, however, MacIntyre called Jane immediately—an assertion, as with the others reported here, that is supported by phone records.
When Jane answered, MacIntyre—the charismatic fourth-year CU coach whom Jane and everyone else close to the program called “Mac”—told Jane that he and his wife were at an airport, about to fly home after receiving the Home Depot Coach of the Year award in Atlanta the night before, live on ESPN. Jane says she congratulated him on the honor, one of several national coach of the year awards MacIntyre would collect following the Buffs’ turnaround season, a 10–3 campaign that MacIntyre had optimistically called “The Rise” before it even began. Then she laid it all out:
“I told Mac I was terrified to talk to him and it was the hardest decision I had ever made,” Jane later told SI. Tumpkin, her boyfriend of three years, had repeatedly and violently abused her during the last two of those years, she told MacIntyre.
Over the course of this 34-minute call, Jane told MacIntyre that the physical abuse had begun right after Tumpkin accepted the CU job in February 2015. He and Jane had been staying at the Renaissance Boulder Flatiron Hotel when, after one of the many arguments about his infidelity that complicated their relationship, Jane says the former collegiate defensive lineman, who is approximately 6'1", 220 pounds, “choked me, threw me up against the walls, and bit me in the face.” The 22 months after that first episode were marked by similar assaults, according to Jane. Tumpkin had choked her, dragged her by the hair, and tossed her around his apartment and various hotel rooms, she told the head coach. (Tumpkin and his lawyer did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.)
“I told [MacIntyre] we had discussed the abuse. I told him that I didn’t want Joe to go to jail. I didn’t want to hurt Mac or Trisha or the CU program.... I told him I was sorry for bringing this to him at an exciting time, but I was terrified that Joe was going to kill himself or someone else.”
Jane later told tell SI that she suffered approximately 80 episodes of abuse at Tumpkin’s hand in the years 2015 and 2016. Many of these assaults had lasted for hours, she said, leaving her with bruises that she hid while working as dean of students at a Michigan high school. Routinely Tumpkin’s fits of violence were followed by gifts, apologies, and promises to change, which Jane, after varying lengths of time, always accepted.
“Why did I always come back?” Jane asked herself during a recent conversation with SI. “I have a Masters degree. I’m trained to counsel kids, families, when things like this come up … and yet I stayed.
“All the clichés are true,” she added. “I loved him. I thought I could help him.”
During her initial conversation with MacIntyre, Jane says, she told him that the most recent incident had happened three weeks earlier, after she’d flown to Boulder for the Washington State game on Nov. 19. The night before the game, Jane says Tumpkin came home at midnight, drunk. Jane alleges that another violent assault ensued. It resumed the morning after the game, at around 8:00 a.m., Jane said, and the abuse continued when “he dragged me across his dining room to the door where he hold me to get the f--- out.” Later, Jane made her way to the airport and flew home to Michigan (which was also Tumpkin’s home state, and the state where they had first met). That incident ended their relationship, Jane said.
Jane recalls that MacIntyre’s first words were: You were very courageous to make this call. He asked Jane if she was safe. She said that she was. (Asked his recollections of these conversations, MacIntyre declined comment.)
“Mac said that he was numb,” says Jane. “He said he had never had a situation like this come up before and he wasn’t exactly sure what to do. He said he was getting ready to get on a plane to Denver and he would find out what he needed to do legally. I started to cry and told him I don’t want the police involved because of what it would do to Joe. I just needed someone to know—someone who could help him get well—because he is dangerous.”
“Mac asked me several times if I [felt] safe.… I told him that I did as long as Joe didn’t lose his job.”
During that first call, the head coach’s faith in her story—“he was so kind,” Jane recalls—moved her to call him back the next day. Jane had told Mac that she was intentionally not giving him any evidence because she didn’t want to put him in an “Art Briles situation”—a reference to the former Baylor head coach who was fired for reportedly mishandling allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by Baylor players. But then she remembered that there was evidence that could easily become public. Earlier in 2016, she says she told MacIntyre during this second conversation, “the police had shown up at Joe’s apartment ... [there is] a domestic violence call on file ... a neighbor heard Joe beating me up.” She had lied to the police that night, she explained, by claiming that the violent sounds had been part of a consensual sexual encounter. The police bought it and left.
MacIntyre thanked Jane for the heads up, she recalled. According to Jane, he said that he had spoken briefly about the matter with athletic director Rick George, who was traveling, and “they were going to sit down together when [George] got back and decide what to do,” Jane said. After that call, and over the next three days, Jane’s phone was silent. She would not hear from MacIntyre, or anyone at Colorado Athletics, again.
Tumpkin would not be suspended from the team for another month. In the face of mounting evidence, Tumpkin was finally asked to tender his resignation on Jan. 27, 2017, three weeks after his suspension, and seven weeks after Jane first informed MacIntyre of Tumpkin’s repeated assaults. A disconcerting series of events within CU Athletics preceded his departure, events that fit a pattern that has become all too familiar within college athletics—that of a female victim pitted against a powerful institution desperate to maintain its success and public image.
Here are some texts over the last couple of days about the abuse, Jane texted MacIntyre three days after their first phone conversation. He hasn’t gotten help ... You are in my prayers, Coach. You and Trisha welcomed me as family and I am sorry for bringing all this into such an amazing time for you both.
Jane attached screenshots showing text exchanges between her and Tumpkin, which she shared with SI. In response to Jane’s accusations (you are dangerous ... I have 2 years of your bruises and attacks to remind me ... Your demons beat our love into the ground), Tumpkin responded not with denials, but:
I do have remorse ... There is change. I told [you] I am getting help....
She wasn’t looking forward to the calls she expected to receive from MacIntyre or athletic director Rick George (whom she'd met on a couple of occasions), or one of their representatives—maybe someone from a victims’ support service. But she did expect them. She anticipated brief calls offering support, maybe informing her that steps had been taken (discreet steps, Jane hoped) to see to it that Tumpkin would get the help he needed. She expected calls that would help her feel as if she and other women were at least a little bit safer than they’d been before Jane entrusted the story of her abuse to her assailant’s boss, who is also the highest paid public employee in Colorado and is required, as a mandated reporter (as is MacIntyre’s boss, Rick George), to notify CU’s Title IX coordinator of such allegations.
The first contact Jane received about the matter, however—other than texts from three people closely associated with CU Athletics who praised her for speaking up—was from Jon Banashek, who called her four days after she and MacIntyre first spoke and, according to Jane, introduced himself as the criminal defense attorney for Joe Tumpkin. I understand you called coach MacIntyre, he said.
Jane was “stunned, hurt ... mortified,” she told SI.
She assumed, rightly, that Banashek was the go-to defense lawyer for CU Football. A Google search would later reveal to her that Banashek had represented Buffs defensive back Jeffrey Hall, who pled guilty to two felony charges after assaulting a female CU student at a party in Feb. 2014; and Donald Gordon, one of two Buffs players who pled guilty to felony burglary earlier in 2016 after being caught on tape stealing codeine and electronics from a dorm room. Banashek had also represented Josh Tupou, a 300-pound, NFL-bound lineman who, according to a local Boulder-area paper, the Daily Camera, citing a police affidavit, was accused of escalating a brawl at a campus party in February 2015 when he “tackled a party guest ... punched him three to four times in the face ... [inflicting] a broken nose and a broken bone in his right cheek ... [and] reportedly kicked another man in the crotch and then punched a third man in the back of the head.” Banashek, Jane recalled, mentioned the Tupou case during his call to her, as if stating his qualifications. She would learn later that Banashek had gotten the Tupou charges dismissed.
According to Jane, Banashek told her that “he understood from Mac that I was looking for a restraining order ... [Banashek said] he could make that happen. He assured me that his client would never contact me again in any way. He kept asking, What is it that you want?” Jane recalls. “He must have asked me that ten times.
“I told him that I wanted his client to have not beat me up for two years. I told him that I wanted Joe to be safe and I wanted other women to be safe. I told him that on the Friday before, I was diagnosed with PTSD and that I am going to have to take meds for the first time in my life because of all this.”
Would you like to have all of that paid for? Banashek asked, according to Jane.
“I said, ‘I don’t want one penny of Joe Tumpkin’s money ... [Tumpkin] had to have told you that I would never take a dime of anyone’s money.’
“[Banashek] asked if I wanted an apology. I told him I had 600 apologies in text [form], so I do not need another. I told him that I had called coach Mac ... but no one is talking to me except a criminal defense attorney who is being paid a lot of money to get Joe out of trouble for beating me for two years.
“[Banashek] asked if I was considering going to the police. I said yes.”
A pause followed, Jane recalls.
“He asked if I would do him a favor and give him a heads up before I flew to Colorado to meet with police. I asked: Why I would do that? He said that it would just help him with his job.”
Incredulous, Jane says she clarified this request from her assailant’s lawyer: “I am going to fly across the country to get a PPO [Personal Protection Order] against a man who has beat me for two years, but before I do, I am supposed to call the man who is being paid a lot of money to get him out of trouble for beating me?”
Instead of calling Banashek, Jane advised the defense attorney, “I’ll call coach MacIntyre, because I trust him.”’
“Mr. Banashek said that Mac wouldn’t be taking my calls anymore because he didn’t want to be called in as a witness.” Both Banashek and MacIntyre did not respond to SI’s multiple requests for comment.
Phone records confirm that Jane called MacIntyre’s cell as soon as her call with Banashek ended.
“I was very upset,” she remembered later. “I recall leaving a voice mail saying that I knew he wouldn’t pick up, but I didn’t understand what was happening. Why is an attorney for Joe calling me and offering me money and counseling and apologies? What is going on, coach? I am scared ...”
Jane stayed home from work the next day, “sickened,” she recalls, by the call she’d received from Tumpkin’s defense lawyer. From her home in Michigan, two days after her conversation with Banashek, she texted MacIntyre:
I am going to file a report with the police in Colorado about what was done to me. I do not wish to give Joe or his criminal defense attorney a heads up, but I will forever respect you and Trisha so I wanted you to know ahead of time.
She started Googling affordable Denver attorneys. “I called two or three lawyers. They all said they could win me a lot of money. One of them promised: ‘I’ll get you a million dollars.’” She settled on Boulder attorney Brian Bagley, she says, “because he didn’t care when I told him, ‘I don’t want any money out of this.’”
Jane borrowed the money for Bagley’s retainer from her mother. Concerned that her text to MacIntyre had been blocked and still loyal to the head coach and his program, Jane said later that she “felt guilty all day because I was about to fly to Colorado to get a PPO, and Mac didn’t know.”
She called the coach at 5:56 p.m. MacIntyre didn’t answer. “Hey, coach,” she says she said on the ensuing voicemail. “I know you won’t answer my calls. This will be my last call to you … I do not want you or the boys to be hurt or blindsided by anything. I am flying to Denver on Sunday and I am going to the police and to court for a [restraining order] on Monday morning. Please do not tell Joe or his attorney because I do not want them to know that I am coming.... I am only telling you because I respect you and Trisha so much.”
One hour and 18 minutes later, Banashek called her. (“I thought, ‘Did Mac just call him after I asked him not to?’”) During this second call from Banashek, Jane recalled, his tone was as kind and cordial as it had been during the first call.
“He asked what I was planning on doing. I said I don’t know. He said, Well, you have a lot of people on pins and needles here. I asked who. He said, Joe, Mac, Rick George. I said, ‘Mac says he 100% believes me. But everyone is on pins and needles because they want to know if I am going to the police? Not because there is an abusive man on Mac’s staff?’”
Jane recalls that Banashek said: I want to devote my time to getting you and Joe healthy, not to helping Joe keep his job and stay out of jail. Can you help me with that?
Despite the severity of the situation, Jane says she couldn’t restrain a chuckle. “I said, ‘Does that work on people?’”
According to Jane, Banashek at that point said, I’m trying to help you, because this could get worse for you.
“That sounds like a threat,” Jane said she replied.
No no no no. I just know that you don’t want this to go public because of your son.
“Ah, you have been talking with Joe,” Jane replied, knowing Tumpkin was aware “that my son was the only way he could hurt me anymore.”
“I knew that I had to tell [James].”
James (not his real name) had played defense for Tumpkin when Tumpkin was the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan between 2010 and 2014. James’s mom and his coach didn’t start dating until James’s senior year. James didn’t know about their relationship until a year later, after Tumpkin accepted the Colorado job. The conversation in which Jane told her son that she intended to move to Colorado and marry his former coach “did not go well,” Jane recalled. The taboo of a coach dating a mom was just too strong.
As if Jane didn’t have enough on her plate, she would have to pick this scab and tell her son that Tumpkin had physically harmed her many, many times since the CMU days, and that the news of this abuse, and their relationship, was about to become public. She worried she would have to keep James, 23, from getting on the next plane to Boulder to retaliate.
Fortunately, Tumpkin wouldn’t be in Boulder by the time she sat down with her son. The Buffaloes were scheduled to fly to San Antonio on Christmas Eve for their Alamo Bowl matchup against 13th-ranked Oklahoma State.
On Friday, Dec. 16, following a pre-bowl practice, MacIntyre told the media which assistant he’d chosen to fill the defensive coordinator role at the Alamo Bowl. (Colorado’s usual DC, Jim Leavitt, had been hired by Oregon earlier that week.) MacIntyre chose Joe Tumpkin. “That’s when I really knew that I was alone,” Jane says.
Two days after that announcement, on Sunday, Dec. 18, Jane flew from Detroit to Denver. The next morning she went to the police station in suburban Broomfield, Colo., the town where Tumpkin lived and where most of the abuse had occurred. The duty officer introduced her to a Broomfield PD detective named Dale Hammell. Within moments of sitting down with Hammell, she told SI, “as soon as I could see that he was only interested in the truth, that he wasn’t going to try and twist my story this way or that, I felt a wave of relief come over me that I can’t even describe.… I was able to relax for the first time in weeks. Months.”
She and Hammell spent nearly seven hours together, discussing, among other things, the 911 call that had been placed by a neighbor of Tumpkin’s on March 12, 2016. The contents of that call cannot currently be released by the district attorney because they are evidence in an ongoing investigation, but according to a source with knowledge of those contents, the neighbor complained of a loud, physical altercation involving a man and a woman. Jane told SI that that evening’s lengthy physical assault included threats from Tumpkin in which he repeatedly yelled, “I’m going to f------ kill you.” When a police officer asked Jane nine months later whether furniture had been broken that night, Jane told the officer: “No, he wasn't throwing furniture. He was throwing me.”
On Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, the day after Jane gave her lengthy statement to Det. Hammell, her temporary restraining order against Tumpkin was signed by a judge in Boulder court. On Wednesday, Hammell asked Tumpkin’s lawyer to bring him in for questioning. Banashek replied that he would consider bringing his client in after the holidays.
On Christmas Eve, MacIntyre and his coaches and players flew to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl and the practices, events, and media sessions that would precede it. That was also the day that Jane sat down with her son and had a conversation much like the one she’d had with MacIntyre 15 days earlier.
Afterward, in a text message to one of her closest friends, Jane described James’s reaction to the news that Tumpkin had repeatedly assaulted her:
Hugged me a lot. Said he loved me and he was glad he knew. He was seething in a quiet controlled way with his eyes filled with tears. He kept rubbing his head hard, looking away and crying. He hugged me forever. I sobbed. I told him the only way Joe could ever hurt me again was through him.
Tumpkin, meanwhile, remained a candidate for CU’s permanent defensive coordinator job. “He’s very knowledgeable of the front end and back end [of the defense] together,” MacIntyre told The Denver Post. “He gets along with the players ... The guys really respond to him.”
Oklahoma State scored the first 31 points of the 2016 Valero Alamo Bowl. Cowboys receiver James Washington torched CU’s secondary for 171 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys’ 38–8 win. In the days that followed, Tumpkin reportedly interviewed for other, high-paying defensive coordinator jobs at programs including Houston.
Jane, meanwhile, was having difficulty sleeping. The Christmas break and the Michigan snow had quarantined her in her home, where, based on the lack of response from MacIntyre or George, she was left to wonder whether CU Athletics wanted the story—and the growing case file at Broomfield PD—kept off the public radar until the high school recruits from whom Tumpkin had gained commitments could sign with the Buffs on Feb. 1. Thanks to her ex-boyfriend and her son, Jane knew intimately the inner workings of college football and could foresee a scenario in which, after that all-important date—Feb. 1—Colorado would quietly allow Tumpkin to take a job elsewhere, unburdening themselves of their indecorous secret.
On Jan. 5, 2017, the day that Tumpkin was supposed to go into Broomfield PD for questioning, his attorney, Banashek, called Jane’s lawyer, she says, to ask that she consider two alternatives that might salvage Tumpkin’s coaching career. Would Jane consider keeping her restraining order temporary for one year, then revisit the matter after that? (A hearing had been scheduled for Jan. 31, 2017, to determine whether the order would be made permanent, a stark upgrade with more severe repercussions for Tumpkin.)
The other option Banashek presented: Could Jane simply notify the police that she didn’t want to move forward with the criminal case?
Jane replied, No, to both options. “Tell him we’ll see him on the 31st,” she told her counsel.
“What they overlooked was that I have a son,” she told SI. “My son knows about this. There’s no way I could accept their offers and their money and whatever else and just walk away and pretend this never happened. I couldn’t look [James] in the eye again.”
The next day, a Friday, the Daily Camera broke the news that a restraining order against Tumpkin had recently been obtained by an unnamed woman claiming two years of physical abuse. Athletic director Rick George issued a statement that read: “We are still gathering details about the very serious allegations in this filing. Once I’ve reviewed it, I will get together with Coach (Mike) MacIntyre and we will take whatever action is appropriate and necessary.” Exactly four weeks had passed since Jane’s initial, 34-minute phone conversation with MacIntyre. Neither George nor anyone else at CU Athletics had contacted Jane since then.
After the weekend, George issued another statement in which he said he was “very concerned by the allegations”—allegations he again neglected to mention he had known about for a month—and that “Joe Tumpkin has been suspended indefinitely from his coaching duties.”
That same day, Jan. 9, was also the day the university announced a $16.25 million contract extension for MacIntyre, which will pay him $3.25 million per season, for the next five years.
On Thursday, Jan. 12, six days after the Daily Camera story, SI contacted Associate Athletic Director David Plati, CU Athletics’ top spokesman, to ask him when MacIntyre had first learned of the domestic violence allegations against Tumpkin. Plati responded promptly, via email: “we all first heard of them at the same time, which was last Friday afternoon [Jan. 6]. When I say we, that is coach, the A.D., myself, the Chancellor…”
SI asked Plati whether he had confirmed that answer with MacIntyre and George. Plati emailed: “Don’t need to—we all found out when a local reporter emailed us for a comment ... we all found out within minutes of each other.”
Seeking further confirmation, SI telephoned Plati, who said, “I don’t even know if Joe [Tumpkin] knew it was coming ... When I saw the email [from the Daily Camera on Jan. 6] I said, I haven’t heard of this, and I called Rick—Rick hadn’t heard of it either. Mac hadn’t heard of it either. Sometimes how you find things out is from the media.”
“MacIntyre and George each told you, ‘This is news to us?’” SI asked.
“Yes,” Plati replied.
This exchange suggests that Plati, who has worked for CU Athletics for 39 years, may have either been lied to by MacIntyre or George, or that the coach and A.D. had for some reason withheld the Tumpkin allegations from a senior athletics official, the program’s spokesperson.
That evening, SI texted MacIntyre and asked him the same question, When did you first learn of the Tumpkin allegations? SI invited MacIntyre to discuss the matter. MacIntyre has not responded.
The next morning, Plati emailed SI: “Your questioning made me doubt if I knew everything, so I reached out to my athletic director last night … he and Mac knew of some allegations prior … I just wasn’t in the loop, which is common on matters such as these before there is documentation that becomes public.”
That evening, more clarification from Plati: “In mid-December, Joe Tumpkin’s ex-girlfriend notified Coach MacIntyre of an allegation of physical assault. MacIntyre immediately informed Rick George, who then engaged Chancellor Phil DiStefano. They (the Chancellor and Rick) determined that no action could be taken at that time because there was no restraining order, criminal charges, civil action or other documentation of the allegation.”
Documentation, however, did exist well before Colorado officials publicly acknowledged the accusations. Boulder County judge John Stavely signed a restraining order on Dec. 20, 2016—eleven days after Jane’s first call to MacIntyre, seven days after Tumpkin’s defense attorney called Jane and told her that he’d been in contact with CU Athletics, and five days after Jane notified MacIntyre that she was headed to Colorado to obtain the restraining order.
Jane’s voice cracks with emotion that has less to do with her plight, she says, or even with the physical abuse she’s suffered, than with the stark way she has learned that “football gets prioritized over all else at these places.” She sits in a seaside café near Los Angeles, dabbing mascara with a paper napkin. Her insistence that the criminal case go forward, she says, is based on her son’s wishes. “He calls the shots now. I am doing whatever [James] wants me to do. For me, it’s only about my son finding peace and healing at this point.”
Later that afternoon, a Colorado judge would make the restraining order permanent, which all but forced athletic director Rick George to fire one of the football program’s best recruiters, right before National Signing Day. (Tumpkin submitted his resignation, at George’s request, the following day, Jan. 27. He will receive a compensation package of about $79,000, which Jane's salary records indicate is more money than she makes in a year. That same afternoon, the chancellor’s office notified SI that its public records request, which sought the athletic program’s recent internal communications, would cost over $1,700.00, paid in advance.)
On Jan. 31, 2017, the day before National Signing Day, the local district attorney filed felony assault charges against Tumpkin—the fruit of Hammell’s detective work and Jane’s refusal to give in. Tumpkin turned himself in the next evening, was released on $10,000 bond, and is due back in court Feb. 9 to hear his charges.
From her seat next to the ocean, Jane reflects on how her greatest vulnerability, her son, ended up being her greatest strength. “I would not have gone through all this if not for [him],” she says of the storm she’s still riding out. “I would have told Detective Hammell—who is the only person I’ve trusted during all this—to drop the case, ‘I don’t want to press charges.’ I would have let CU do whatever they wanted just so I could be done with it.”
A moment later she is thinking out loud about women she will never know, victims she will never meet. “I’m 53 years old,” says Jane. “I can’t imagine what it would be like for a 19-year-old girl to tell someone at the university that she’d been beaten for two years, then to get a call from her attacker’s defense lawyer, offering money and apologies and pressuring her to call the whole thing off. And the people that you called in the first place—having them abandon you. Describing the whole thing to the police, then the D.A., reliving the whole thing again and again, while he [Tumpkin] is on paid leave.”
As for her decision to take her story public, to share it with a broad audience, Jane says that she let her son make that decision, along with whether or not to use their real names. That move, they realize, will maintain their anonymity only for as long as it takes someone to do some deep Googling.
Her son, fighting past his anger, gave her his permission to go public. “This story is more than just me and you,” he texted her. “This is for every girl in the past and future who has been buried by money and big entities.” To that, he added the words which Jane deemed by far the most important of her story:
I’m proud of you mama.