Matt Patricia on dismissed '96 sexual assault charge: 'I was innocent then, I'm innocent now'

Matt Patricia held a press conference on Thursday, hours after The Detroit News reported that the Lions' first-year coach had been indicted by a grand jury on one count of aggravated sexual assault in 1996, though he was neither tried nor convicted. 

Patricia began by reading from a prepared statement.

"I'm here to defend my honor and clear my name," he said. "Twenty-two years ago I was falsely accused of something very serious, very serious allegations. There were claims made about me that never happened. While I'm thankful on one level that the process worked and the case was dismissed, at the same time I was never given the opportunity to defend myself or to allow to push back with the truth to clear my name.

"This was something that was very traumatic to me when I was 21 years old and once it was finally addressed I tried to put it behind me," he continued. "For those of you who are just getting to know me, and for those of you who have known me a long time, you should know I was raised the right way, by two amazing parents who taught me to know the difference between right and wrong, to stand up for what's right and to stand up for those who have been wronged."

Patricia, who was an assistant with the Patriots from 2004-2017, was formally hired by the Lions on Feb. 5. Here's a look at what else he read from his prepared statement.

  • "I have two older sisters that taught me respect and love. I've always tried to protect them and keep them from harm."
  • "I'm a husband and a father to a wonderful and amazing family. I try to share those same values with them. I am so thankful to my wife and my family for being supportive of me."
  • "I believe, and have always acted, with respect for all people. Knowing that everyone is someone's dad, mom, sister, brother, son or daughter. I do not condone any of the type of the behavior that has been alleged -- and I never have. I have always been someone who respects and protects the rights of anyone who has been harassed, or who has been the victim of violence. And we as an organization will continue to operate that way."
  • "In these times, we need to be even more sensitive and responsible when dealing with  these issues and separate right from wrong. Thankfully, truth is on my side."
  • "I lived with the mental torture of a situation where the facts can be completely ignored or misrepresented with disregard to the consequence or pain that it would create for another person. I find it unfair and upsetting that someone would bring this claim up over two decades later with the sole purpose of hurting my family, my friends and this organization with intention of trying to damage my character and credibility."
  • "I was innocent then and I'm innocent now."
  • "Let me be clear, my priorities remain the same: To move forward and strive to be the best coach, teacher and man I can possibly be."

Patricia then fielded several questions -- including one about what actually happened the night in question -- and each time he made clear that he was innocent then and now, adding, "Again, I did nothing wrong and that's all I'm going to say on that matter."

He was also unequivocal about his employment status, thanking ownership and the front office for their unwavering support: "Absolutely, I'm 100 percent the head coach of the Detroit Lions."

And seven minutes after the press conference began, Patricia left the podium.

Shortly before Patricia's remarks, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Pro Football Talk, "We will review the matter with the club to understand the allegations and what the club has learned."

Early Thursday morning, shortly after the News' story was published, Lions owner Martha Ford, general manager Bob Quinn, and team president Rod Wood released a joint statement backing their new coach.

"Responding to a published report this evening from the Detroit News, The Detroit Lions are aware that a criminal charge involving sexual assault was brought against Matt Patricia in 1996. Matt was 21 at the time and on spring break in Texas. The charge was dismissed by the prosecutor at the request of the complaining individual prior to trial. As a result, Coach Patricia never had the opportunity to present his case or clear his name publicly in a court of law. He has denied that there was any factual basis for the charge. There was no settlement agreement with the complaining individual, no money exchanged hands and there was no confidentiality agreement. In discussions today with Lions management, the reporter involved acknowledged that the allegations have not been substantiated.

"As an organization, The Detroit Lions take allegations regarding sexual assault or harassment seriously. Coach Patricia was the subject of a standard pre-employment background check which did not disclose this issue. We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time. Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia's explanation and we will continue to support him. We will continue to work with our players and the NFL to further awareness of and protections for those individuals who are the victims of sexual assault or violence."

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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