Despite the City Attorney's office in Columbus, Ohio, declining to press charges, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is still being investigated by the NFL for an alleged domestic violence incident over the summer. As CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported Sunday morning, Elliott could face a lengthy suspension if the NFL finds that Elliott violated its domestic violence policy.
With the story once again in the news, it's a good time to take stock of what we do and don't know about the alleged incident, and the NFL's investigation of it.
What we know
On July 22, 2016, Deadspin unearthed Instagram photos posted to the account of a woman who is reportedly Elliott's ex-girlfriend and they showed several bruises on her knee, arms and neck. The caption of the photos contained an allegation that she had been abused for months, and that "it finally got out of control to where I was picked up and thrown across the room by my arms. Thrown into walls. Being choked to where I have to gasp for breath. Bruised everywhere, mentally and physically abused."
TMZ Sports obtained a police report relating to an alleged incident involving Elliott and his accuser. From TMZ's story on the police report:
The female accuser filed a report with the Columbus PD in Ohio Friday morning ... saying she was assaulted by Elliott -- who she claims is her former live-in boyfriend -- while sitting in the driver's seat of her parked vehicle.
The officers who responded to the scene say the woman claims she had pain in her wrist and a red mark -- but declined medical treatment.
Cops contacted Elliott -- who denied striking the woman. He also said he never lived with her.
In the report, cops list the accuser as a 20-year-old woman -- 5'5", 120 lbs. Elliott is listed at 6'0", 225 lbs.
According to the report, cops also spoke with 4 witnesses -- but they all told cops they didn't see an assault. One of the witnesses was in the car at the time of the alleged incident.
TMZ also spoke with Elliott's agent at the time. He responded that, "I can assure you [the allegations] are not true." The accuser was referred to the prosecutor's office if she wanted to press charges.
In early September, the City Attorney's office in Columbus declared in a press release that it would not press charges against Elliott. The press release read as follows:
On Friday July 22, 2016, [complainant's name redacted], in conjunction with a previously publicized Columbus Police report, filed an intake complaint with the City Attorney's Office, Prosecutor Division. Her complaint included allegations of Domestic Violence by her boyfriend, Ezekiel Elliott, on 5 separate occasions. The time period of the allegations encompassed Sunday July 17, 2016 through Friday July 22, 2016.
[Complainant's name redacted] completed the required paperwork and Intake staff conducted an interview where specific details about each allegation were gathered. Witness statements, police reports, and medical records were acquired. Photographs of text messages and visible injuries were taken. Upon completion of the initial investigative phase, the complaint was evaluated by a prosecutor. The evaluation called for follow up with several witnesses and a closer examination of all the evidence presented.
Subsequent to the filing of an intake complaint by [complainant's name redacted], the City Attorney's Office, Prosecutor Division was contacted by both a representative and legal counsel for Mr. Elliott. These individuals were cooperative with the investigation and provided additional information, including witness affidavits and photographs, for review and consideration.
A final evaluation of the complaint for potential charges involved an assessment of the credibility of all identified witnesses based on the accuracy and thoroughness of their statements both standing alone and in comparison to one other. Moreover, there was a careful examination of all injuries and an attempt to determine the source of their cause. Finally, the potential motive, if any, of all parties was examined.
After reviewing the totality of the evidence, the City Attorney's Office, Prosecutor Division is declining to approve criminal charges in this matter for any of the 5 alleged incidents. This is primarily due to conflicting and inconsistent information across all incidents resulting in concern regarding the sufficiency of the evidence to support the filing of criminal charges.
In the aftermath, Elliott's father, Stacy, sent out the following tweet:
My son has been vindicated! Truth has prevailed! If he had voliated one of OUR core values I personally would have had him charged! #Justice— Ambassador Elliott (@stacy_elliott) September 6, 2016
USA Today reported Thursday that Elliott had recently been interviewed by the league "as part of the league's ongoing probe into" the alleged incident. An NFL spokesman declined to confirm Elliott's interview with the league.
La Canfora reported Sunday morning that Elliott could still face a suspension if he is found to have violated the policy, and that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had a tense exchange with Lisa Friel, who spearheads the NFL's domestic violence investigations as a special counsel for the league, at a recent owner's meeting.
"We had a good discussion and that's about where I'll leave it at," Jones said, per the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. "We were in a situation where people were close like this and we probably might've gotten a little louder tone. But it was in a situation where I was having to talk over the music. Certainly the volume of it had to do with the noise in there."
Jones also stated that though there is not "closure" surrounding the incident, "People that have a lot more information than I have have given him a total clean bill of health. I do know that all the real information that anybody has is that he doesn't have an issue."
What we don't know
We don't know whether the Columbus City Attorney's office declining to press charges means that it felt the claim was without merit or whether it merely felt there was not enough evidence for an indictment or a conviction.
We don't know anything about the NFL's investigation other than the fact that it is ongoing and that Elliott may or may not have been interviewed by the league as part of it. The NFL, as a matter of policy, does not comment on domestic violence investigations except to say that they exist.
This means we do not know:
- Who is running the investigation
- What actions have been taken in the investigation
- What actions still need to be taken in the investigation
- How long the investigation is expected to continue
If the NFL does indeed find that Elliott violated the domestic violence policy, we do not know if the league will actually suspend him for six games. That's what the NFL policy states is the minimum suspension for a first violation, but the NFL has been extremely inconsistent with its punishment of domestic violence incidents in the past. Only two offenders of the domestic violence policy have actually been suspended for six games. (Jermaine Cunningham and Rodney Austin, both of whom were free agents at the time of their suspensions, were suspended for six games in 2015. Neither of them has played in the NFL again.)
Greg Hardy missed all but one game with the Panthers in 2014 after being placed on the Exempt/Commissioner's Permission List for his role in a 2014 domestic violence incident. Hardy was suspended for conduct detrimental to the league, but had his ban reduced from 10 to four games in 2015.
The most recent inconsistency came in the case of former Giants kicker Josh Brown, whose suspension was reduced from six games to one for "mitigating circumstances." The NFL has since come under fire for its investigation into Brown's domestic violence incident, as police documents later showed that Brown admitted to abusing his wife.
"I have been a liar for most of my life," Brown wrote in a journal. "I made selfish decisions to use and abuse women starting at the age of 7 to fill this void. I objectified women and never really worried about the pain and hurt I caused them. My ability to connect emotionally to other people was zero. My empathy levels were zero. Because I never handled these underlying issues I became an abuser and hurt Molly physically, emotionally and verbally. I viewed myself as God basically and she was my slave."
There was also a report that the NFL knew of an incident between Brown and his now ex-wife, Molly Brown, at the Pro Bowl in 2016, and had to help her and the couple's children move to another hotel. The league has since placed Brown on the Commissioner's Exempt List and he has been released by the Giants.
The NFL, in response to the releasing of police documents in the Brown case, issued the following statement in which it blamed the sheriff's office in King County, Washington, for not providing documents needed to conduct a thorough investigation:
"NFL investigators made repeated attempts -- both orally and in writing -- to obtain any and all evidence and relevant information in this case from the King County sheriff's office. Each of those requests was denied and the sheriff's office declined to provide any of the requested information, which ultimately limited our ability to fully investigate this matter."
The King County Sheriff, John Urquhart, then called out the NFL for the sloppiness of its investigation, calling its investigator a "goofus" and a "yokel" and stating that the NFL never once submitted a formal records request.
"I don't like to get pushed around by a bully," Urquhart said in a radio interview, per USA Today. "Or I can be charitable and say they don't know the facts. They don't understand how public disclosure works. That's a better way to put it, if I felt like being charitable. I don't like the NFL taking shots at the sheriff's office when it's not deserved. It's real simple."
We do not know whether the investigator that was in contact with the King County Sheriff's Department is the same person investigating the alleged Elliott incident, or whether the league will conduct a more thorough investigation of Elliott than it did of Brown.