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Former Indians owner named in abuse suit

Lisa Foster, right, and Peter Cooney in an undated photo provided by Foster, are pictured with two dogs she alleges he threatened to kill if she told anyone about the abuse she claims to have endured.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW — Longmeadow resident Lisa Foster filed a civil suit against former Springfield Indians owner Peter Cooney last week in Hampden County Superior Court, accusing him of sexually abusing her as a child.

Foster, who recently testified before the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee regarding the elimination of statutes of limitations for civil cases involving child abuse, filed battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress charges against Cooney, her stepfather, in a civil action filed on June 26.

"This is the first civil suit I have filed against my stepfather," she said. "In the past 1 1/2 years, I have attempted a number of times to get the police and District Attorney's office to take some sort of action, but I failed there."

Cooney married Foster's mother in 1981 and the two remained married until the death of Foster's mother on Dec. 26, 2010.

According to the suit, Cooney allegedly lived in the same household as Foster during and prior to the marriage and abuse occurred approximately weekly over an extended period of time.

"The defendant began raping, sexually molesting, physically and emotionally abusing the plaintiff when she was 7 years old," the suit reads. "The sexual abuse ended at the plaintiff's approximate age of 14."

Springfield attorney Michael Jennings, who is representing Cooney, issued a press release on June 26 addressing the matter.

"Peter R. Cooney has learned that his estranged stepdaughter Lisa A. Foster has today filed a civil action against him alleging that he sexually abused her decades ago when she was a minor . These allegations are false," he said. "For several years Ms. Foster has attempted to extort money from Mr. Cooney while threatening to make these false allegations public. He will not be extorted by Ms. Foster who by her own admission has a long, unfortunate history of mental illness for which Mr. Cooney is not to blame. She had for some time been waging a dishonest campaign of publishing these false allegations on social networking sites while demanding money from him.

"Mr. Cooney will vigorously defend against these allegations and equally vigorously prosecute an action for slander and libel against Ms. Foster. Mr. Cooney will save his personal responses to this lawsuit for the courtroom and will have no comment," he continued.

Foster outlined the nature of the abuse in the suit and in a previous interview with Reminder Publications, however, due to their graphic nature, this newspaper opted not print the details of her allegations.

She also previously named Cooney as her abuser to this newspaper as well as in an open letter to state legislators in February pleading with them to consider changing the statute of limitations laws. Because he had not been brought to court or included in any official state documentation, it could not be printed.

Foster told this newspaper that Cooney allegedly utilized tactics to silence her during the time of the abuse, including threatening to poison and kill two dogs he bought her.

Foster alleged in the suit that the events resulted in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder, which was diagnosed in April 2011, and as a result of the disorders, she repressed the memories of her abuse until March 2011.

According to Massachusetts law, there is a three-year rule associated with abuse cases. Charges must be filed within three years of incident, within three years of the alleged victim turning 18 or three years from discovery that an emotional or psychological condition was caused by the abuse.

"I have only known that I was sexually abused by my stepfather since March of 2011," Foster said. "I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, a condition caused by severe child abuse and/or neglect soon after this. I have every faith that I will have access to a jury trial by this three-year rule."

Cooney, a former Springfield Indians radio broadcaster, became the sole owner of the team in 1982 when he purchased it from George Leary. He sold the team after the 1993-1994 season as part of a $2 million transaction that moved the organization to Worcester.

Now a certified agent with the National Hockey Players Association (NHPA) and the Professional Hockey Players Association (PHPA), Cooney is the president of Cooney Management Company, a Boston-based agency representing several National Hockey League and American Hockey League players.

Foster explained that she has filed the lawsuit not for money, but rather for herself, calling each step in the process to being ready to bring the lawsuit forward as therapeutic.

"I am ready for the rest of my life; I want closure; I want some form of justice and acknowledgement of the crimes committed against me so I can move on," she said. "I have worked very hard at pushing myself to each next step, not knowing where that would bring me, or what would be next, but I have known to just keeping pushing forward. This is the step I am at now, this was just the next in the line."

She later added, "I hope to stand up for the little girl I was and the little girl I should have gotten to be. I hope I get both closure and justice and I hope to inspire others to seek the same for themselves. I know by insisting on my value and of the importance of what happened to me I do the same for so many others. I also hope to push more and more minds away from denial and into reality so that childhood sexual abuse will stop happening."

Foster is representing herself in the case, but said she may obtain counsel once Cooney files his countersuit.

"It is very empowering and it allows me to continue to use my reclaimed voice," she said of her reasoning to file the suit without representation. "I have received some guidance from an attorney and depending on how things proceed he may get more involved for me.

"The issues I have had with finding representation have mostly to do with money. When these cases are brought to trial they can be quite costly. A retainer, which I am unable to provide, would be required for someone to take my case from this point to its fruition, and the uncertainty of that process."

Foster acknowledged that she faces an uphill battle in getting the suit to trial and in the trial itself, but says she is confident.

"I have been told that due to the money differential between myself and my abuser, that he and his attorneys would be in a position to bury me in court," she said. "I happen to think differently. I know the strength of my case and how very much the truth matters."