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Basketball player settles defamation case against Sacramento Bee

Attorneys representing former Sacramento Kings forward Richaun Holmes accuse the Bee of smearing him by publishing unfounded allegations of domestic abuse.

Attorneys representing former Sacramento Kings forward Richaun Holmes accuse the Bee of smearing him by publishing unfounded allegations of domestic abuse.

Sacramento Bee columnist Robin Epley (Background Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr Creative Commons, Graphic by The Desk)
Sacramento Bee columnist Robin Epley (Background Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr Creative Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

A former Sacramento Kings basketball player has settled a defamation case against the Sacramento Bee and its parent, McClatchy Company, over a series of columns that wrongly portrayed him as a domestic abuser.

The agreement comes one day before attorneys representing Richaun Holmes and the Bee were due to make a court appearance for a status conference on the case, which has since been cancelled.

The settlement resolves the defamation case brought against the Bee and the McClatchy company, which also named columnist Robin Epley and Holmes’ ex-wife, Allexis Holmes.

Terms of the settlement were not immediately available, but a spokesperson for the Bee affirmed the newspaper was not paying Holmes any cash in exchange for his willingness to end the case. The newspaper did not say if the Bee or McClatchy were providing Holmes with any other type of compensation.

The case stemmed from a series of columns written by Epley that revealed details of a strenuous custody battle between Holmes and his ex-wife, one that included allegations of domestic violence and child abuse.

Attorneys representing Holmes accused Epley and the Bee of ignoring their duty to accuracy when they pursued why Holmes took a leave of absence in early 2022. In her first column on Holmes departure, Epley said the Kings’ apparent refusal to disclose to her the specific reason for Holmes’ departure was “unacceptable” and another example of “the sorry history of the NBA on domestic violence issues.”

In follow-up columns, Epley highlighted allegations made by Holmes ex-wife — even going so far as to interview her for an exclusive story — but didn’t give the same weight to Holmes’ assertion that the domestic abuse allegations were false.

A court ultimately found in favor of the basketball player, awarding him full custody of the couple’s 6-year-old son. Despite this, Epley continued to write columns that were critical of the Kings forward, suggesting at one point that his ex-wife needed “protection.”

Attorneys representing Holmes said Epley and the Bee ignored court documents and other public records that showed the domestic violence claims were frivolous and false, which smeared the basketball player as a child and spousal abuser. They say the Bee ignored findings by the court that Holmes’ ex-wife was “a troubled woman.”

“This story — the truth — was not the dramatic story of abuse [Epley and the Bee] wanted to sell,” attorneys wrote in their complaint filed in federal court last year. “Defendants had their own self-serving motives to, instead, spin the false narrative that Richaun is a wealthy, professional athlete plagued by domestic abuse allegations but protected by sporting and legal institutions, and use that narrative to benefit themselves.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Bee said Epley “reported fairly and truly on Mr. Holmes’ custody dispute, and appropriately represented her opinion on his ex-wife’s allegations.”

“This lawsuit settlement — which includes no payment to Richaun Holmes — affirms the First Amendment rights of the Sacramento Bee,” Colleen McCain Nelson, the executive editor of the newspaper, said in a statement.

Early Wednesday evening, the Bee ran its own story on the settlement, which over-emphasized the fact that the newspaper was making no cash payment to Holmes. The story’s author, reporter Sam Stanton, did not say whether he tried to get comment from Holmes or his attorney before the article was published online. The article also did not say that Holmes — who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks last month — had been cleared of his ex-wife’s domestic violence allegations by a judge.

Stanton’s story did not offer any additional information about the settlement, but many of the problematic columns in question no longer appear in Google search results, suggesting the removal of links from search engines may have been a stipulation. Social media posts promoting Epley’s columns remain online, as do many of the articles themselves, though the Bee has placed them behind a paywall and is charging readers at least $1 to view them.

The lawsuit involving Holmes was the latest in a string of business and legal-related headaches involving the Bee and McClatchy over the last few years.

After failing to see any financial return on its investments in augmented reality and community news initiatives, McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2020. Five months later, the McClatchy were acquired at auction by investment firm Chatham Asset Management, putting the Bee under common ownership with the National Enquirer and other tabloids.

One year after the sale, the Bee announced it was vacating its long-time headquarters at 2100 Q Street, where it printed the daily edition of the newspaper since the early 1950. The Bee currently leases an office at the Cannery, a cooperative business complex located about a mile away from its former home.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).