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In the first public comments made since North High School athletic director Leo Lewis was placed on administrative leave in December, his lawyer said Tuesday that he was unjustly fired last month.

Lewis, a former Vikings player, was the first of three mostly unexplained departures from the athletics programs in Minneapolis schools.

“We’re looking to make sure the public understands Dr. Leo’s name is extremely important to him,” Obie Kipper Jr., said at a news conference he said was intended to clear Lewis’ name.

Kipper, a Lewis supporter, and Mack Reed, a lawyer with the Madel law firm that’s representing Lewis, repeatedly declined to say what they were seeking and bristled at the notion they were threatening a lawsuit.

Lewis did not attend the news conference.

Kipper said when Lewis was fired last month, he was told that he had failed to protect district resources or follow policies, procedures and best practices. There is no criminal investigation into Lewis’ work and he has no additional information about what caused his firing, Kipper said.

Reed said the firing was “unfounded and unjustified.”

But Lewis has not technically been fired until and unless the school board votes to do so in August, according to his lawyers.

Schools spokesman Dirk Tedmon said that a full investigation was completed.

“Per data privacy laws, we cannot provide additional information without a signed release from Mr. Lewis,” he said.

Lewis would not sign a release, according to his lawyers.

On Feb. 9, Southwest High School athletic director Ryan Lamberty was placed on paid administrative leave with no public explanation. His last day on the payroll was June 30, according to a schools spokesman.

Neither Lamberty nor Lewis ever returned to work. Lamberty has not been available and has provided no explanation for his departure. The day after Lamberty was put on leave, city schools athletic director Trent Tucker resigned abruptly, saying it was time to move on.

The news conference was held at Turning Point in Golden Valley, a self-described behavioral services and training center for the African-American community, “beginning with chemical health.” Kipper, a board member at Turning Point, said Lewis was not a patient at the center.

Lewis went on paid administrative leave from his district job on Dec. 14, 2017. His last day of employment was June 21, according to Tedmon.

Tedmon said the district is in the process of hiring a district athletic director, the position Tucker held. The positions held by Lamberty and Lewis haven’t been posted, he said.

In early April, Kipper said all six athletic directors at the high schools were informed by the district that their jobs would be reduced to 46 weeks from 52. They were given the option of accepting the change or being laid off, Kipper said, adding that Lewis agreed to the reduction and remained on paid leave, but was informed last month of his dismissal.

Kipper also presented a list of Lewis’ accomplishments as the athletic director at North High that including the joy he took in seeing students succeed in athletics and in the classroom.

Lewis played for the Vikings between 1981 and 1991, with part of one year spent with the Cleveland Browns.

For the past 25 years, Lewis has conducted sports camps and clinics in the city and has taught at the University of Minnesota.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747