The NFL didn’t press hard enough for details of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, and the Ravens should have been more forthcoming to the league with information, former FBI director Robert Mueller III said Thursday in releasing his report on the league’s handling of the situation involving the former Ravens running back.
In his investigation, paid for by the league, Mueller did not find evidence that anyone in the NFL saw video of Rice punching his future wife before the footage was released in September.
He criticized the Ravens for failing to share with NFL officials a detailed description of Rice striking Janay Palmer in an elevator at the Revel Casino Hotel, information the team’s security director gleaned from an Atlantic City Police lieutenant in late February.
Mueller also questioned why league officials never pressed the team for more details. He pointed to this as an early missed opportunity in an investigation he criticized as generally insufficient. He further portrayed NFL investigators as overly deferential to law enforcement agencies.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has apologized for not pursuing a more detailed investigation. The team released Rice just a few hours after TMZ posted video of the incident on Sept. 8.
The 96-page report was a reminder — two days before the Ravens were to face the New England Patriots in the playoffs — of a scandal that shadowed the franchise and league for much of 2014.
“The NFL should have done more with the information it had, and should have taken additional steps to obtain all information about the February 15 incident,” Mueller said in a statement attached to the report.
The NFL faced serious questions about the possibility it had ignored the video after an anonymous law enforcement source told the Associated Press he had sent the footage to a league official in April.
But Mueller said that, after interviewing hundreds of people and reviewing millions of documents, emails and texts, investigators found no evidence anyone with the NFL had received or seen the video.
The NFL announced Mueller’s investigation two days after the footage of Rice striking Palmer emerged. It was the league’s chief response to a public firestorm that included widespread calls for the resignation of commissioner Roger Goodell.
The report confirms Goodell was forthright, said New York Giants owner John Mara, who assisted Mueller. But “this matter tarnished the reputation of the NFL,” he added.
In his own statement, Goodell said Mueller “made a series of very constructive observations and recommendations regarding our prior investigatory procedures.”
Goodell said the league has already addressed many of Mueller’s concerns in recent changes to its personal conduct policy. “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,” he said.
In a separate memo to NFL staffers, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Goodell thanked employees for cooperating with Mueller and said the report’s findings “confirm what I have always believed to be true.”
Ravens president Dick Cass released the following statement Thursday: “We welcome completion of the ‘Mueller Report,’ and we look forward to cooperating with the League on any new policies resulting from this report.
“More than anything, the report reminds us all of the gravity of the consequences of intimate partner abuse and the lessons we must all learn. We have taken steps to educate ourselves, and others, about this important issue, and will continue to do so.”
Asked about Mueller’s criticism of the Ravens, Mara said: “I think that, at the time, the league has acknowledged and the Ravens have acknowledged that mistakes were made. I think the league has put in a new policy now that would require clubs to share any information they have about an incident like this. So, I would hope that kind of obligation would prevent something like this from happening again.”
Though the NFL described Mueller’s investigation as independent, critics noted the former FBI director works at WilmerHale, the same law firm that employed Cass for more than 30 years. Others noted the owners assisting with the process, Mara and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, are close allies to Goodell.
Mara and Rooney released a joint statement praising the report as “detailed, extensive and thorough.”
“As owners, we are the first to agree that the NFL did not have a sufficient policy in place to deal with players or other personnel accused of domestic violence,” Mara and Rooney said. “We were slow to react, and in the case of Ray Rice, the original punishment was insufficient. In addition, the steps taken by the NFL to investigate this matter were inadequate.”
Mara and Rooney added they had spoken with Goodell on Thursday morning. In a later conference call, Mara said owners have expressed, “resounding support for Roger. He did tell the truth. We're happy the report confirmed that.”
Mueller’s report did little, however, to satisfy some of the league’s sharpest critics.
“I still stick with the premise that the NFL only got the information they wanted to get,” said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who writes about the business of football for National Football Post. “The tape was apparently readily available to media outlets and could be obtained for a price. To me, the NFL was operating under the domestic silence policy. I don’t think it will ever be the same going forward because of how much attention this incident received.”
Added Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the anti-sexism group UltraViolet: “The NFL has a domestic abuse problem, and it simply doesn’t have the leadership to fix it. It’s clear from this report that Goodell's NFL took no initiative to uncover the facts in this case— a continuation of Goodell’s long record of ignoring this issue. It’s time to take domestic violence out of the NFL, but first Goodell must go.”
Even a Ravens player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was unsurprised that the investigation wasn’t more critical of Goodell.
“I really didn’t expect the Mueller report to be a big deal,” the player said. “Roger Goodell is their guy. The report makes that very clear. There isn’t much to this report.”
Mueller said his investigators reviewed millions of printed documents, text messages, emails and electronic files and interviewed more than 200 people, including Ravens employees. He said he also used forensics experts to search more than 400 computers for digital traces of the Rice video. An email The Baltimore Sun sent New Jersey State Police in attempting to obtain a police report of the incident was described in the report.
Ravens sources have said they provided phones and computers for review by Mueller’s investigators. Cass instructed all team employees, in a September email observed by The Baltimore Sun, to maintain all electronic records, including emails, text messages and phone records, in advance of the inquiry.
Mueller said the investigation was limited only by the Associated Press’ unwillingness to reveal the source who said he’d mailed the video to an NFL official and by the refusal of Atlantic City Police to make officers available for interviews.
Mueller recommended better training for NFL investigators, the creation of an NFL investigative team specializing in domestic violence and sexual abuse and the introduction of policies to require information sharing between the league office and individual teams during investigations.
He painted the NFL’s investigation of Rice as flimsy, saying it consisted mostly of unsuccessful attempts to obtain records from Atlantic City Police and of gaining updates from media accounts and public court records.
He faulted the NFL for not going further, given how troubling the known details were. “The information did not provide the graphic detail that the in-elevator video depicted, but it should have put the League on notice that a serious assault had occurred and that it should conduct a more substantial independent investigation,” Mueller wrote.
Goodell faced wide criticism when he initially suspended Rice for two games. The NFL made Rice’s suspension indefinite a few hours after TMZ released the footage of him striking Palmer. But Rice won his appeal in November, when an arbitrator said Goodell had improperly punished him twice for the same misdeed.
Rice has been eligible to play since, though no team has signed him. He still has a grievance pending against the Ravens over his 2014 salary, which is scheduled to be heard next week.
The Ravens said in September they had received a detailed description of the Rice incident from Atlantic City Police.
But Mueller’s report included the most detailed account yet of what Ravens security director Darren Sanders — currently on paid leave after he was charged with a fourth-degree sex offense — learned in that February conversation
“Argue at elevators, Ray appears to spit on her, she elbows him, then spits on him. She walks away and then reappears, slapping at him. She enters elevators first with him behind her,” Sanders wrote in his notes on the conversation. “He slaps/punches her, she spits on him and punches at him, he slaps/punches her again causing her to fall striking her head against the wall, going ‘unconscious.’ He stands over her for a brief moment then tries to drag her off the elevator.”
Sanders then briefed general manager Ozzie Newsome, Cass and coach John Harbaugh.
Newsome told Mueller’s investigators he recalled this happening on March 10 or March 11. Newsome wrote in his notes: “She elbow him starting throwing/Punches after she spit on/him he slap her she sailed/backward – more intoxication/than the hit.”
Cass told investigators Sanders characterized Palmer as the aggressor and Rice as defending himself with a slap. Cass said Sanders described Rice and Palmer as very intoxicated and said it was unclear if Palmer was knocked out because of the blow, colliding with the wall or being drunk.