NEW: Report says league might have seen in-elevator video if it had done better investigation
NEW: Rice's lawyer was given copies of the damning video in April, told Ravens about it
NEW: Former FBI director calls for new special NFL team to investigate assault cases
There is no evidence that anyone at the NFL saw or possessed a video showing Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée until it was made public, but the league should have known it needed to dig deeper into the incident, an external investigative report released Thursday concludes.
The report wraps up an inquiry by former FBI Director Robert Mueller into how the NFL initially investigated the then-Baltimore Ravens running back’s attack on Janay Palmer last February at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.
“We concluded there was substantial information about the incident – even without the in-elevator video – indicating the need for a more thorough investigation,” Mueller said in his report. “The NFL should have done more with the information it had, and should have taken additional steps to obtain all available information about the February 15 incident.”
The NFL asked for Mueller’s report in September after a public outcry over NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of Rice’s discipline.
“While this investigation has now concluded, our focus on the underlying issues and our commitment to positive change remain as strong as ever,” Goodell said in a written statement. “We have all learned a great deal in the past months and expect to be judged by how we lead going forward on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Here are some things we learned through the report:
No evidence of video at NFL office
In September, The Associated Press reported that a law enforcement official told one of its reporters that the source mailed a copy of a video from a surveillance camera inside an elevator at the now closed Revel casino showing Rice knocking out Palmer to a league executive in April. The report said a woman called from a league phone number to acknowledge receipt of the video.
The report says more than 200 league employees were interviewed and found no evidence that happened. Among the employees questioned were the women whose ID badges indicated they were in the NFL office on April 9. All 188 said they made no phone call.
“Each denied having seen the in-elevator video or even hearing a rumor that an in-elevator video of the Rice incident had been received by the league before it appeared on (celebrity news website) TMZ on September 8,” investigators said.
Also questioned were people in the mailroom, and no one there could remember a package sent to Jeff Miller, the league’s senior vice president of security.
Multiple emails from high-level NFL executives indicate they had not seen the video before it was posted on TMZ, the report says.
Ray Rice’s attorney had copy of video on April 1
The prosecutor’s office in Atlantic County wanted to wait until after a grand jury heard the case in late March before releasing the video to Michael Diamondstein, Rice’s attorney.
Diamondstein had asked for a copy from the casino on February 20. He was told by the casino’s lawyer that police said not to turn over any evidence while an investigation was ongoing. Later Diamondstein was referred to the prosecutor.
Rice was indicted on March 27 on a third-degree aggravated assault charge.
His lawyer received a copy of the video from the casino on April 1 and from the prosecutor days later as part of the process of discovery.
The report says Diamondstein chatted about the video with Ravens President Richard Cass and the lawyer said it was “terrible.” The two disagree precisely when the call took place and how much of what was on the video was discussed.
Diamondstein told investigators that if the league had asked for a copy of the video, he would have provided it.
That was one of the league’s missteps identified in the report.
Others included not contacting police officers who investigated the incident, not attempting to get videos from the casino or the prosecutors, and not following up with the Ravens to see if the team had information the league did not.
“Had the league undertaken a more substantial investigation, it may have gathered available information about the incident, possibly including the in-elevator video prior to its public release,” the report says.
Atlantic City Police called NFL in March
A private investigator who was working the case for the NFL had been in touch with the Atlantic City Police Department trying to get the arrest report and other documents. He was told twice the police wouldn’t provide the information.
He asked a supervisor in the records division, Ava Davenport, if he could get reports if he filed an Open Public Records Act request.
She said everything in it would be redacted.
On March 28, the day after Rice’s indictment, someone using Davenport’s work phone called the NFL office and spoke to an operator for 59 seconds.
Police declined to discuss the nature of the call and the operator couldn’t remember what was discussed.
The call wasn’t transferred, records showed.
The incident was viewed live
A security officer at the casino watched Rice strike Palmer twice as it happened on a surveillance monitor. That employee called another security officer to the elevator. When a supervisor arrived Palmer couldn’t remember what had happened.
Two DVD copies of surveillance video were given to police that morning.
The in-house copy of video was viewable by security workers for several days before access was restricted. One employee told Mueller’s team as many as 40 people had access to the room where the video could be watched.
Mueller calls investigation independent
Several media reports had called into question Mueller as lead investigator because his law firm has done work for the NFL.
But Mueller writes he has never provided legal services to the league nor has any of his team.
Mueller said he joined the WilmerHale firm in March 2014, years after the firm helped the league negotiate with two media groups. In the past four years, the firm has only provided advice on immigration issues.
“Placing these relationships in context, I am quite confident that the ties described above have in no way influenced the conduct of this investigation,” he says.
Mueller says: “Our findings demonstrate the weaknesses inherent in the league’s longstanding practice of deferring to the criminal justice system with respect to the investigation of facts and the imposition of discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy. Discipline should be imposed on the basis of the specific nature of the player’s conduct, not solely or necessarily on the disposition of a criminal case.”
He recommend the NFL establish an investigative team for domestic violence and sexual assault cases, that the league expand its security department with a special counsel and other personnel, and clarify policies that assured teams the league shared information.
“Investigations of domestic violence cases present unique challenges,” the report says.