| Crime |

For Pam Fine, Surviving a CU Coach's Abuse Was Just the Beginning

A Facebook photo of Pam Fine.EXPAND
A Facebook photo of Pam Fine.
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Despite charges based on more than 100 instances of abuse he'd allegedly committed, former University of Colorado Boulder assistant coach Joe Tumpkin was offered a sweetheart deal, with prosecutors promising to drop five felony counts if he'd plead guilty to a single misdemeanor, third-degree assault. But at a hearing last week, the agreement's finalization and Tumpkin's sentencing were set aside until early 2019 thanks to the efforts of Pam Fine, his victim.

Fine, speaking from her home in Michigan, expresses gratitude that the proceedings have been rescheduled for next February, when she'll be able to attend. In her words, "I was extremely appreciative that the judge read my objection and honored my wishes, and I am looking forward to having the opportunity just to be heard."

Yet Fine feels "as if my voice in the case has not been coming through in the prosecutors' statements, and that part has been difficult. Because I'm a pretty strong woman, and I have no problem speaking my truth and standing by it."

That's been clear since the February 2017 publication of a Sports Illustrated article in which she talked in detail about what Tumpkin had done to her and the ways in which then-CU head coach Mike MacIntyre and other individuals at the university had failed to act when she told them about the violence she had suffered at his hands.

Joe Tumpkin's official CU Buffs portrait.
Joe Tumpkin's official CU Buffs portrait.
CUBuffs.com file photo

As reported by Sports Illustrated, Fine, who originally maintained her anonymity before deciding to divulge her identity later that year, began trying to reach MacIntyre and his wife, Trisha, with whom she was friendly, in early December 2016 and finally succeeded on December 9, eleven days before a restraining order against Tumpkin was granted.

During a subsequent conversation, she told SI that MacIntyre had been kind and solicitous. Yet Tumpkin remained on the CU payroll until January 6, when a reporter for the Boulder Daily Camera reached out to CU associate athletic director Dave Plati for comment about the allegations against the assistant coach. Only then was Tumpkin suspended, and he resigned under pressure on January 27, after he was charged with five counts of second-degree (felony) assault and three counts of third-degree (misdemeanor) assault.

A subsequently released arrest affidavit outlined even more examples of the savagery contained in a request for a restraining order that had previously been made public, and the details created an optics problem for CU when it came to extending head coach MacIntyre's contract. A pact had been assembled in the afterglow from the Buffs' best season in ages and MacIntyre being named the Home Depot Coach of the Year, but it was put on hold pending an investigation of the matter launched under the supervision of former U.S. senator Ken Salazar.

In June 2017, CU's Board of Regents unveiled the report, which found that assorted officials erred in the way they handled the matter. Chancellor Phil DiStefano earned a ten-day suspension and MacIntyre and athletic director Rick George were directed to make $100,000 donations to a CU Boulder domestic-violence fund. Shortly thereafter, the aforementioned contract extension for MacIntyre was approved. It gave him a raise of nearly $1 million per annum plus an additional $100,000 (the exact amount of his ordered donation) to be paid on the last day of 2021, when the pact expired — and even though MacIntyre was fired in November following a disappointing season, CU remains on the hook for all of this cash.

Former CU Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre.
Former CU Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre.
YouTube file photo

Meanwhile, the case against Tumpkin wound its way through the legal system — and when Fine found out that he might walk away with what she saw as a wrist slap, she went public, even creating an online petition to bring more attention to the situation. "From the beginning, I had one thing that I wanted," she says. "I wanted one felony. It could have been any of the ones he was charged with. It didn't matter. But because he's a football coach and he was going to want to get back into coaching, I didn't think he should work with kids, and a felony would prevent him from working at a high school. He's a very violent man, a very abusive man, very volatile, and I work at a high school with teenage boys — and I don't think Joe Tumpkin should be working with children. That was my rationale."

Upon learning about the misdemeanor pledge, she goes on, "I asked for jail time. The sentence comes with six months to two years of jail time attached to it, and I said, 'If that's all you're going to do, he should get jail time.' But my preference was one felony with meaningful domestic-violence counseling and alcohol treatment, because when I was with him, he drank and drove, and I have seen him be very abusive with alcohol. I didn't feel I was being vindictive or spiteful. I just felt that it was for the safety of other people."

When the hearing was set for December 12, Fine let prosecutors know right away she wouldn't be able to be there; her first email to them on the subject was sent on October 3. So she was frustrated when, in her view, prosecutors blamed her for forcing the rescheduling, just as they'd suggested that her supposed refusal to give them access to her cell phone had created earlier delays.

The latter accusation was completely baseless, she maintains. "What happened is when I went to the police station in December 2016, I was told that in order to prove that Joe had been threatening me in text messages and voicemails, they had to take the contents of my phone. The detective put a document in front of me, and I said, 'This is scary.' And he said, 'I understand, but I need you to know we're only looking at the relevant content — conversations between you and Joe.' So I said okay and signed. But then they took the entire contents of my phone and allowed the defense to have access to it."

Pam Fine's Twitter portrait.
Pam Fine's Twitter portrait.

As a school counselor, she goes on, "I have confidential student files on my phone. I work in suicide prevention programs and have numerous underage students discussing mental health issues and suicide. And I didn't want information about minors shared anywhere. What ended up in the Boulder Daily Camera made it sound like there was salacious content on there, when I was just trying to protect children and students. And at the hearing, there was zero mention of me being a counselor and a dean of students or anything that showed any level of credibility."

Not that Fine has allowed such matters to silence her. "The hardest part was reporting my abuser," she notes. "And once that was done, I made a commitment to my son and to my family and to myself and to victims that no matter what, I would see this through. I've never wavered. I haven't called and said, 'Okay, I'm done.' I just keep thinking that there's absolutely no way a 19-, 20-, 21-year-old woman could make it through this process. It's taken a tremendous amount of money — money I've borrowed from my family — and a ton of strength. I've had to lean on people to get through, and it's been exhausting. So in addition to dealing with the PTSD and the breakup and all the things that go along with it, I've been dealing with two years of the truth being buried under motions and objections and gamesmanship."

Still, she knows other things are more important — a lesson reinforced by a personal tragedy. "My brother committed suicide recently," she reveals. "It's been horrific, and it just puts everything into perspective."

After his death, Fine "went back and read all of the texts he'd sent me, and he predicted everything that would be put in my path. He was involved in athletics and very successful, and he'd tell me, 'This is their playbook. This is what they're going to do. They're going to try to break you down, drag this out until you drop out. You have to stay strong.' And his words continue to resonate. So I'm not going anywhere, and we'll see how this ends up."

Click to read Pam Fine's objection to the Joe Tumpkin plea agreement and court date.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.