The Josie Harris Story: Why I'm Suing Floyd Mayweather

Brandon Sneed@@brandonsneedWriter-at-Large, B/R MagMay 8, 2015

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 02:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) Floyd Mayweather Jr. looks down before taking on Manny Pacquiao in their welterweight unification championship bout on May 2, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Josie Harris told me she didn’t really want to file that $20 million lawsuit against Floyd Mayweather on Tuesday.

She gave Mayweather a chance to recant, free of charge, the reason for the lawsuit in the first place: his April 14 interview with Katie Couric, in which he said that during his brutal attack on her—in front of their children in 2010, for which he served two months in prison—he didn’t really punch, kick, stomp and threaten to kill her. No, he said, he was merely “restraining a woman on drugs.”

Harris now lives in Valencia, California, and filed the suit in Los Angeles County on Tuesday, claiming defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Harris has enough to worry about, raising three kids as a single mother while also running her business, Nappiesaks, and pursuing other ambitions in television and publishing.

But then that interview came out on the morning of April 14. She woke up not to her alarm but to one alert after another from her phone, filling up with text messages from friends asking if she’d seen what Mayweather said, and when she dropped her kids off at school, she was flooded by people asking her about it, too.

She called me soon after. “I don’t want to continue to bash Floyd in articles,” she said, knowing that, at the time, I was reporting on a Mayweather feature story. “I don't like talking to the media.”

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She’s had to forward her cell phone number to another phone, where she just lets the voicemails pile up. “I don’t want them spinning things in different directions or making it seem like I’m media hungry.”

She sounded upset but also—both then and in other conversations later—thoughtful and articulate…and flat-out exasperated, sometimes almost ready to cry.

“It was five years ago,” she said. “I’ve gone through a lot of therapy and post-traumatic stress getting over this. … Floyd and I were kind of on good terms, but then I started dating someone else, and now we’re back on bad terms. … I don’t know what his deal is. I can’t speak for him. … But I understand—because of what counselors and therapists have told me—this is just an abuser. … He did a lot of [lying] at the very beginning, when it first initially happened. And you know, the attorneys asked him to stop doing it, because it wasn’t OK. … And for Katie Couric to be such a reputable journalist, why was she afraid to ask other questions?”

It’s well known by now that Harris isn’t the only woman Mayweather has (allegedly) abused. He’s been cited or arrested for seven alleged assaults against five different women, and there have been more than a dozen documented incidents of Mayweather assaulting people since 2001, most of them women, and several other unconfirmed reports.

Couric ignored all of that. “OK, all these other [accusers], were they on drugs, too?” Harris asked rhetorically. “And if they were on drugs, is it still OK to abuse somebody who’s on drugs?”

To be clear, Harris said she had been drinking the night of the incident but wasn’t drunk. She also said that there was marijuana in her system, but it wasn’t from that night.

“Marijuana stays in your system for 45 days,” she said. “And so what? … Even if somebody is strung out on crack cocaine, they still do not deserve abuse. … No abuse is OK, whether it’s a slap on the face, whether it’s verbal abuse, or it’s, you know, the controlling abuse. Abuse is abuse.”

Mayweather saying she was on drugs was just the latest in a long string of lies Harris says he’s told about that night. He’s said several times that the charges against him were trumped up and that Harris was lying.

But Harris didn’t even testify against him.

“I dodged subpoenas so the kids and I didn’t have to testify against him,” she said. “I wrote the judge a letter asking the judge to not incarcerate him. And he still is just slandering my name and saying that he was restraining me because I was on drugs? … The judge sentenced him based on evidence and nothing else.”

That evidence included police reports and a heartbreaking handwritten statement from their, at the time, 10-year-old son, Koraun—and then there was, of course, Mayweather’s own guilty plea.

“If he has a great publicist (Kelly Swanson) who can have Katie Couric come interview him,” Harris said, “they should probably control what he says and what he doesn’t.”

But of course, Harris knows as well as anyone that there’s only so much control one can have over Mayweather. That’s part of this whole problem. The Couric interview is just another example. Harris contended that Mayweather is a compulsive liar—“You can be a complete stranger, and be like, ‘This guy’s a liar,’” she said—and whenever he loses control, he loses his mind.

Harris has recently started dating someone and says that might have played a part. Another reminder to Mayweather: “He’s lost his power over me,” she said. Same as the night he beat her up.

Harris claims the same thing happens to many of Mayweather’s ex-girlfriends who don’t behave as he wants. Mayweather’s ex-fiancee, Shantel Jackson, is suing him for assault, including him threatening to shoot off her toes. Mayweather’s ex-girlfriend, Melissia Brim, who mothered one child with him, is on Mayweather’s good side for now but in the past has also been a victim.

Now, Brim runs a boutique clothing store and beauty parlor that Mayweather helped finance.

Harris said, “When Melissia left, all of a sudden, she was being abused. Now Melissia’s back in the picture. … If she was to put him on child support and move on with her life, I guarantee she would have the same problem. I mean, every single person that leaves Floyd, they have to give their jewelry back, they have to return their gifts. That’s just who he is.”

I tried—many times—to talk to Mayweather about all of this but got nowhere.

Brim, whom I spoke with at Mayweather’s April 14 media day, dismissed any questions about Mayweather’s abuse. “I don’t care to speak on it,” she said. “That just is what it is.”

I asked her what she thought about Mayweather.

“He’s my best friend,” Brim said. “He really is.”

Floyd Mayweather, after beating Manny Pacquaio in a May 2 title fight.
Floyd Mayweather, after beating Manny Pacquaio in a May 2 title fight.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Harris decided to wait until after Mayweather’s fight on Saturday to file the lawsuit. “Fighting is a mental sport,” she said. “You have to be very mentally prepared, and I didn’t want to be a distraction.”

She said that she still didn’t want him to get hurt. “He is the father of my children,” she said. “I just want him to be OK.”

I spoke with her a few times the week before, and she seemed truly torn, not sure she even wanted to go through with it. She just wants to keep her good name intact—not just for her name’s sake but because of how she wants to use it: to offer hope and inspiration to women in abusive relationships everywhere, starting with a book she’s been working on for years.

“And if I’m writing a memoir, I need to be credible,” she said. The book is about battered women finding the hope and the strength to escape abusive relationships and reclaim their lives.

“As a battered woman, you’re afraid,” she said. “And until you get your backbone back, you’re scared.”

Harris just wishes, for everyone’s sake, it didn’t have to come to this. She really would have preferred Mayweather simply recant what he said. “I wish he would just own up to what he did, say he’s sorry, and then just move on,” Harris said. “Somebody with some balls might.”

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