Ravens, NFL say they tried to obtain video of Rice assault

Questions remain about whether both had other avenues to obtain video

September 09, 2014|By Justin Fenton and Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Ravens said Tuesday that the team gave up its investigation into the Ray Rice assault incident after just a few weeks, while the National Football League explained its own fruitless efforts to obtain the surveillance video of the player punching his then-fiancee.

Both organizations faced mounting criticism after release of the video by celebrity news website TMZ prompted both to impose stiffer penalties against Rice on Monday. The 27-year-old running back was set to rejoin the team following a two-game suspension, but was instead cut from the roster and suspended indefinitely from the league.

Questions remained about whether the NFL and Ravens had other avenues to obtain the video before imposing the original suspension in July, which drew widespread criticism for being too lenient. Attorneys who have represented players in trouble said the team and league, as Rice's employers, could have compelled his defense attorney to turn over the video.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, in a letter to fans, said the team had been stymied in its efforts to obtain the video from law enforcement and the Atlantic City casino where the incident occurred, but he said the team abandoned its investigation before the criminal proceedings concluded. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also said the league tried and failed to obtain the tape from authorities.

"We halted our fact-finding. That was a mistake on our part," Bisciotti said. The letter does not describe any additional efforts taken once Rice's case was referred to a diversionary program in May.

Bisciotti and Goodell said no one in their organizations saw the video before TMZ's release Monday.

Andrew Brandt, former vice president of the Green Bay Packers, said the NFL and teams work together during investigations of allegations against players. NFL security, typically made of former federal law enforcement agents and team security officers who previously worked in local police agencies, use contacts they've developed in their prior professions to ferret out all available information.

Because of those contacts, the league and teams sometimes gain access to information that's not public. Brandt said it would be "naive" to think an organization as powerful as the NFL wouldn't exhaust all of its contacts to learn as much as it can.

He also said players are expected to provide teams and the NFL with all information during investigations into alleged wrongdoing. If they don't, they can be fined or suspended for obstructing the league or team's probes.

Such a scenario played out two years ago when the league suspended Anthony Hargrove, then a defensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints, partly because the league believed he lied to investigators during the league's "Bountygate" investigation into allegations that players were being paid bonuses to injure other players.

But attorneys who have handled NFL cases were conflicted on the scope of the league's power in such cases.

Edward T.M. Garland, who represented Ray Lewis in his murder case as well as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when he was accused of sexual assault, said that he wouldn't turn over evidence such as the video in the Rice case to the league.

"They want to know what the facts are, and my experience is that they look to you to present what the evidence is," Garland said. "The commissioner could say I'm demanding that you turn over X, Y and Z, but he wouldn't have any power to cause me to turn it over. My job is not to make a case against my client."

Rice was arrested in February on an assault charge, and days later TMZ released a video clip showing Rice dragging Janay Palmer out of an elevator in the Revel Hotel & Casino. A police report indicated that Rice knocked Palmer unconscious. But it wasn't until this week that the video released showed the punch. The two are now married.

Bisciotti, in his letter, didn't specify what team officials would have done differently but said they should have seen the tape earlier. "We should have pursued our own investigation more vigorously. We didn't and we were wrong," he wrote.

When asked about a second video, Goodell said in an interview with CBS News that the league "assumed there was a video, we asked for the video," but was not able to obtain it from police. Asked why the league did not use other avenues to obtain it, Goodell said the NFL was "particularly reliant on law enforcement," saying they are the "most credible."

A spokesman for the New Jersey attorney general's office said that it would have been "illegal" for the tape to have been disclosed by authorities to a non-law enforcement entity.

Rice's attorney, Michael Diamondstein of Philadelphia, and his agents have declined to answer questions about whether they allowed the NFL or the team to see the tape.

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