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SUIT SPELLS OUT SEX ASSAULT CLAIM
EX-STUDENT SAYS ECC IGNORED ALLEGATIONS AGAINST HOOPS COACH

A lawsuit filed by a former Erie Community College student accuses college officials of responding with indifference to her claim that the men's basketball coach sexually assaulted her in his office.

The suit accuses ECC, Erie County and the college official who initially handled her complaint of tolerating coach Alexander I. Nwora's behavior and not taking the student's accusations seriously.

The suit, filed last year in State Supreme Court, also names Nwora and calls him a "sexual predator."

"Plaintiff contends that the educational environment at ECC has degenerated into an atmosphere permissive or conducive to illegal discrimination based on sex," according to the suit. ECC officials say they handled the complaint appropriately.

Nwora also is awaiting trial on two felony counts of forcible sexual abuse. The civil suit contains the woman's detailed account of the incident.

Nwora had continued teaching and coaching until Friday, when he was reassigned to administrative duties away from students. ECC officials said they didn't act sooner because they didn't learn until Thursday night that Nwora was facing criminal charges.

And even though the student filed her civil suit in September 2003, Daniel Penfold, ECC's executive vice president for student affairs, said he didn't learn of it until Tuesday.

"As soon as we became aware, we took action," Penfold said.

Thomas J. Eoannou, Nwora's attorney, said his client asserts his innocence.

"It's a shame that a mere allegation of this sort could cause this punishment before a court makes a determination," said Eoannou. He said Nwora would have no comment on the case.

The woman who filed the suit was a criminal justice major at ECC at the time of the incident. The Buffalo News does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.

Nwora was her instructor in a physical-education class. At 8 a.m. Oct. 23, 2002, she met Nwora in the Flickinger Athletic Center to tell him she would miss class that day, according to an account in the suit.

She also wanted to know her midterm grade. Nwora told her to come up to his office, where he told her she had an "F."

When the student questioned the grade, Nwora wouldn't explain it, and the student got up and tried to leave the office. Nwora pinned her to the door and rubbed his body against hers for a few seconds, according to the suit.

Nwora finally allowed the student to leave, but followed her and asked to see her again for five minutes.

She agreed, and he walked behind her into the office, locked the door and then pulled her into a side room where according to the suit he pinned her against a wall and performed a sexual act on himself. When he finished, he released the student and she left.

The student said she reported the incident the next day to a faculty member, who arranged a meeting with an ECC vice president. The vice president never showed up, the suit states, and "this indifference . . . would become the hallmark of the institution's response."

When the student met with Booker Edgerson, ECC's director of equity and diversity, he told her he would investigate the incident..

The student claims Edgerson never called her and didn't return her calls. ECC officials said previously they dropped their investigation at the request of Buffalo police, who launched a criminal probe.

Since the incident, the woman, now 29, has dropped out of ECC and claims she has become withdrawn, suffers from panic attacks and is unable to enjoy sex with her husband.

The suit seeks damages but does not cite a dollar amount.

Andrew B. Isenberg, the first deputy county attorney, declined to comment on behalf of the county, ECC and Edgerson.

Nwora is set to go to trial in February on two counts of forcible sexual abuse.

District Attorney Frank J. Clark described the time lapse between the incident and the indictment in May -- 18 months -- as unusual but said he couldn't explain it.

In response to the college's complaint, Clark said the charges against Nwora were a matter of public record, and he had no responsibility -- "not by law, not by practice," to inform ECC of an employee's indictment.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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