Former NBA star Dwight Howard has denied sexual assault and battery allegations filed against him earlier this year and asked a court to dismiss a civil lawsuit he is facing in Georgia.
In court documents obtained by ESPN, Howard said Monday that he engaged in "consensual sexual activity" with a man named Stephen Harper during a July 2021 encounter at Howard's Georgia residence. Howard denied that he caused any injury to Harper, according to the filing.
In the original complaint filed in July, Harper's lawyers said he and Howard first began corresponding over direct messages on Instagram in May 2021, with Harper initiating the exchange. Harper accused Howard of sexually assaulting him at Howard's home during the subsequent July 2021 encounter.
"We fully anticipated Mr. Howard to raise the issue of consent in his Answer," Harper's attorney, Olga Izmaylova, told ESPN, adding that Harper did not consent.
Harper's complaint also accused Howard of "intentional infliction of emotional distress" and false imprisonment. Howard's response denied those allegations.
"What was a private consensual encounter was made public for profit and Mr. Howard looks forward to bringing the truth to light in a court of law," one of Howard's attorneys, Justin Bailey, told ESPN. "The allegations against Mr. Howard are contested. Mr. Howard intends to present the truth. The truth is Mr. Howard blocked Mr. Harper on social media and then was confronted with two options -- pay to protect his reputation or have a fabricated story made public. Despite being an easy target due to the subject matter and his status as a celebrity, Mr. Howard chose to trust in the justice system and will rely on all future court filings to speak for themselves."
Harper's complaint includes screenshots of alleged Instagram exchanges between Harper and Howard from 2021, along with an Uber receipt of Harper's trip to Howard's residence on the night of the encounter.
Harper went to police a year later, according to a July 2022 incident report from the Gwinnett County Police Department, which was obtained by ESPN. No charges were filed.
"This report was made following Mr. Harper being blocked on social media and after the first demand for payment was rejected," Bailey said.
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing this type of civil lawsuit is two years from the date of incident.
"We had some independent investigation to conduct and Mr. Harper had some private factors to consider," Izmaylova said, "before we all felt ready to proceed with the lawsuit."
Howard, 37, last played in the NBA in 2021-22 with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is an eight-time All-Star and a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.