In LSU’s Drake Davis case, witnesses said they feared wealthy businessman’s retaliation | LSU

Alexis Juanita

When LSU Police investigated allegations in 2018 that a football player was abusing the tennis player he was dating, multiple witnesses told officers they were afraid of coming forward because they feared repercussions from influential Baton Rouge businessman and Democratic political donor Jim Bernhard.

Bernhard is mentioned by name in seven separate instances in police reports about former LSU wide receiver Drake Davis’ abuse of LSU tennis player Jade Lewis, who has recently spoken out publicly for the first time. Bernhard, the wealthy chief executive officer of Bernhard Capital Partners and former CEO of the Fortune 500 contracting firm known as The Shaw Group, took in Davis when he was growing up and helped raise him.

Police documents refer to Bernhard as both a “legal guardian” and “dad” to Davis, though a search through Baton Rouge courts records did not turn up official paperwork of an adoption. Davis told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2015 that he moved into the Bernhard home in sixth grade and that Jim Bernhard and his wife, Dana, became his permanent guardians.

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But the references to Bernhard in the police reports about Davis do not concern the wide receiver’s upbringing. Instead, multiple witnesses told police they were worried about their identities becoming known because of Bernhard’s broad influence. Some feared they would face consequences for reporting that Davis was abusing his girlfriend in ways that included choking her, punching her hard enough to fracture a rib and more.

One football player, whose name is redacted in the police report, said Lewis told him Bernhard had warned her directly against coming forward.

“According to Mr.(redacted), Ms.(redacted) said that Jim Bernhard had threatened her this past weekend, ‘You won’t have a case,’” the police report reads.

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The same football player pleaded with police to keep his identity shielded from public view.

“If my teammates and my coaches knew I’m giving y’all this information, it’s not going to be very good,” police recorded him saying. “Mr.(redacted) was very adamant that his name stayed out of this report because he feared team ramifications and repercussions from Jim Bernhard.”

Reached by The Advocate, Bernhard denied that he ever threatened Lewis.

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“I have not seen the police reports and do not know the identity of the witnesses to whom you refer,” Bernhard wrote in an email. “Notwithstanding what the police reports indicate these witnesses may have said, I did not discourage Jade Lewis from reporting nor threaten retaliation against anyone.”

Bernhard’s influence spans business, politics

Bernhard’s influence in Louisiana is undeniable. He sits atop Bernhard Capital Partners, which oversees a sprawling network of companies, including Epic Piping and Brown & Root Industrial Services, and the firm often seeks to land no-bid government contracts.

He recently turned down a coveted position on the LSU Board of Supervisors, an appointment Gov. John Bel Edwards bestowed upon him in July. Bernhard did not explain his reasons for turning down the seat, though LSU has been in discussions with Bernhard Capital about privatizing the school’s energy systems. Those talks come after the Board of Supervisors voted against its own staff recommendation to launch a public bid process, and to instead negotiate directly with the Bernhard-connected firm and another company.

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Bernhard is also the former state Democratic Party chairman, and is a major donor and supporter to an array of Democratic candidates in Louisiana, including Edwards and East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

Between 2017 and 2018, his company Bernhard LLC donated $130,000 to PACs supporting Edwards. He also donated $100,000 to Broome’s MoveEBR campaign for new roads, and $100,000 last year to the Louisiana Democratic Party.

When The Advocate sent excerpts of the police reports about Bernhard to Lewis — the woman who Davis abused — she said she did not want to comment on them. She denied that Bernhard had threatened her, and said her contact with him had been minimal.

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But the police reports make clear that Bernhard’s wide-reaching influence cast a long shadow over their investigation.

When LSU Police interviewed Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar, who reported Lewis’ abuse in police and Title IX reports, Bernhard’s name came up again.

“Ms (redacted) expressed to Ms. Segar fear over retaliation because Mr. Davis has told her that his legal guardian, Jim Bernhard, would have her deported from the country and kicked out of LSU if she revealed their violent relationship,” police recorded from their interview with Segar.

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Lewis is a New Zealand native.

‘The king of Louisiana’

When police interviewed her on Aug. 17, 2018, Lewis told them about several times that Davis had attacked her. Among the most violent outbursts: in June, she told them that he entered her home one night, punched her in the stomach, wrapped his hands around her neck to strangle her and ripped out one of her earrings. Segar showed them pictures of bruises around her neck.

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“Ms. (redacted) went on to say that shortly after the incident Mr. Davis was contacted by his adopted father Jim Bernhard, who Ms.(redacted) explained gives him money and is best friends with all the police officers,” police wrote in their report.

“In Ms.(redacted)’s own words she described threats from Mr. Davis to her they are as follows: ‘if you come forward we’ll never be together and my parents will ruin your life if you do this’,” the report continued. “And that Mr. Davis will take me to court for ruining his reputation, deport me from the country, my dad is the king of Louisiana, according to Ms.(redacted) he further said.”

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Police also wrote that Davis told his girlfriend he would “take you to court because in Louisiana you’ll never win and in any other state you will.”

And after Davis was arrested in August 2018 over his abuse of Lewis — to which he later pleaded guilty to two counts of battery and one count of violation of a protective order — another witness told police that she was spooked over potential ramifications from Bernhard.

The witness told Segar, who then reported it to police, that she was worried about her safety because of “possible threats originating from the family of Mr. Davis.” Segar also told police that she believed the Bernhard family had provided a lawyer for one of the witnesses in the case — potentially Lewis herself — though the names are redacted from the police reports.

The next day, the witness who was worried about her safety told police that Davis had continued to abuse Lewis after he bonded out of jail. She told them Davis threw Lewis against a wall.

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“Ms.(redacted) explained that Mr. Davis’ family was quite powerful in Baton Rouge and that ‘Drake’s dad is really powerful’ which makes her feel uneasy, but added that no threats were made to her,” police wrote. She told them she was also worried that “the Bernhard family” had gotten police to target a specific vehicle after one of her friends received a citation for being a minor in possession of alcohol, but the police assured her that was not the case.

A football player said something similar in another police interview, telling them “he is scared of Jim Bernhard’s ‘power’ but he has not been threatened by Mr. Bernhard.”

When police interviewed LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph, they wrote that his phone history showed he had three calls with Bernhard one morning in August. Joseph told officers that Bernhard had told him on one of the calls that police had an arrest warrant out for Davis. When they asked Joseph if he thought Davis was violent, Joseph called him a “softie.”

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LSU has commissioned the Husch Blackwell to investigate past handlings of abuse and sexual assault allegations on campus.

Staff Writer Sam Karlin contributed to this report.

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