Posted inEducation

‘I can’t live in fear:’ Lesa Pamplin speaks out on fallout from BYU investigation

It took one day for racial slurs to fill Lesa Pamplin’s text messages, voicemail and inbox. 

On the morning of Sept. 2, the Tarrant County Criminal Court 5 judge candidate was out with some volunteers. She got a call from her goddaughter’s mother asking Pamplin if she saw her Facebook post. Pamplin, 58, said she had not but checked it when she got home.

The post detailed that her goddaughter, Rachel Richardson, the only Black starter on the volleyball team at Duke University, heard students yelling racial slurs at her while she was serving during a volleyball game Aug. 26 at Brigham Young University. 

Pamplin, whose Twitter account is now locked, tweeted about the incident. Those tweets thrust her into the middle of what became a national story.

Since then, she’s received racist threats. On Sept. 19, she went on Fort Worth resident Larry O’Neal’s Facebook show and spoke extensively for the first time about the BYU investigation that cleared the fans of any improper behavior. Pamplin disputed BYU’s findings and told O’Neal she stands by her goddaughter.

Editor’s note: This video contains offensive language.

The report

In a separate interview with the Report after appearing on O’Neal’s show, Pamplin, a criminal defense attorney, said that Richardson’s Duke teammates heard the slurs and notified their coach and then the BYU coach was notified, too. A police officer was placed by the Duke bench and a fan was escorted out.

“Rachel was upset, and she’s been up all night and was crying and was scared,” Pamplin said, describing the Facebook post Richardon’s mother made. “They had to move their next game to an undisclosed location.”

Pamplin decided to tweet about what happened to Richardon and said nobody really did anything, she said. She thought the match should have been stopped. 

She had no idea the tweet would take off. She got an email from the Salt Lake City Tribune asking about the incident and she replied that she was reporting what was told to her.

In the conversation with the newspaper, Pamplin said they told her the paper reached out to BYU, which at first said the incident did occur, the fan was removed and banned, and the department apologized to Duke athletics.

Additionally, the paper informed her the athletic director also spoke to students and said they have to do better and people should speak up if they see that kind of behavior.

But BYU reversed its position after its internal investigation.

“We reviewed all available video and audio recordings, including security footage and raw footage from all camera angles taken by BYUtv of the match, with broadcasting audio removed (to ensure that the noise from the stands could be heard more clearly),” the school said in a statement. “We also reached out to more than 50 individuals who attended the event: Duke athletic department personnel and student-athletes, BYU athletic department personnel and student-athletes, event security and management and fans who were in the arena that evening, including many of the fans in the on-court student section.”

Pamplin said that’s too small of a percentage to interview compared to how many people were at the game and said those interviewed were BYU employees.

She stands by her goddaughter. Pamplin said she has no reason to lie.

Photos show the fans are behind the players when they serve, Pamplin said. She also noted that it wasn’t Richardson who initially said something to the coach, but her teammates.

They didn’t plan some hoax together, she said. She just shared what happened to her family member.

“You think it’s bad for me? Think about a 19-year-old,” Pamplin said. “But cruelty is the point.”

The fallout

“The reason I said anything at all is, BYU has a long history of mistreatment of minorities on campus,” Pamplin said to O’Neal. “BYU commissioned a report last year that African Americans don’t feel safe on our campus and we have to do better.”

Less than 24 hours later, Pamplin started getting text messages and voicemails from numbers she did not know. On O’Neal’s show, she showed him one message that he said he could not read on air because of the language. He said it had the N-word at least five times.

She also played a voice message that had several offensive words and language.

A reporter at FOX 13 in Utah reached out to Pamplin and warned her they got multiple calls from BYU graduates who said there are 26 of them waiting for her to come to work.

After BYU released its reports, the attacks on Pamplin intensified, she said.

People went back years in Pamplin’s Twitter account and found several tweets, which she said were shared without context, and called her racist.

One tweet said, “Elevating these white men to hero status is p****** me off…” She said the tweet was in response to the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Another tweet said, “White women and men always disappoint.” The tweet also shared statistics about demographics in the race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz and how people voted.

In response to the killing of Atatiana Jefferson, she tweeted, “If you’re white, you wouldn’t understand.”

It’s been “extremely stressful,” she told the Report. Her phone is constantly going off. A lot of it she ignores, but sometimes she answers and listens to what people say. She then asks if they can have an honest conversation about race relations in America. She spent almost three hours on the phone with one woman.

BYU’s record, Tarrant vote

Part of why Pamplin chose to speak out is because BYU has a history of students of color feeling unsafe on campus because of racism, she said. In 2021, the university released its own study about the issue.

A group on the BYU campus called the Black Menaces started a TikTok account shedding light on these issues. The Washington Post reported the incident with Richardson is the second time this year the campus is navigating racist allegations. In February, a teacher at BYU apologized after insensitive comments about the role of African Americans in the early church.

This allegation also is receiving backlash, according to the Post. The University of South Carolina women’s basketball team canceled its games against BYU this season. 

Pamplin is running as the Democratic Party candidate for county Criminal Court No. 5, which tries domestic violence cases. She is running against Republican Brad Clark. Early voting is Oct. 24-Nov. 4. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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