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

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.

David Cornwell, an attorney and former counsel to the NFL who is not involved in the Rice case, said it is common for league and team investigators to ask defense attorneys to provide evidence and information they obtain from authorities.

"A player has an obligation under the conduct policy to cooperate with an investigation," Cornwell said. But he said he did not believe the NFL was lying about having viewed the tape. "Maybe they asked Ray or his attorney — maybe they didn't turn it over," he said.

Steven D. Silverman, a Baltimore attorney who has represented NFL players in criminal proceedings and league investigations, said if the Ravens or the NFL had asked Rice or his attorney to provide the video, they would have had to under NFL contractual obligations. Had Rice refused, the league could have fired, suspended or fined him as his employer.

"I would certainly have to turn it over," Silverman said. "There's no question in my mind that he would have the opportunity to ask that all reports and videos and other evidence that would be relevant to the commissioner's investigation be turned over to his office.

"Now, Ray Rice may ask for a confidentiality agreement and may or may not get it, but if he doesn't turn that over, there would be prejudice against Ray Rice and he would likely be sanctioned because he didn't turn over the material requested."

Beyond law enforcement, the Revel casino retained video of the incident, and the website TMZ obtained a clip of the security footage in February and posted the entire video this week.

Casino spokeswoman Lisa Johnson said the casino, which closed earlier this month, had a "company policy not to release" video footage except to those involved "legally from a law enforcement standpoint." The policy was created to protect the privacy of casino guests, she said.

In New Jersey, prosecutors also faced fresh scrutiny over their decision to allow Rice to go into a pretrial diversionary program, which allowed him to avoid jail time.

But the Atlantic County prosecutor's office stood by its decision, saying in a statement to news media that Rice "received the same treatment by the criminal justice system in Atlantic County that any first-time offender has, in similar circumstances. The decision was correct."

Gov. Chris Christie warned against knee-jerk reactions, including increasing penalties for first-time offenders. He called the video "abhorrent" but said Rice is already "paying an enormous price both personally and from a societal perspective."

"Any time stuff like this happens and there's a lot of emotion involved, we should all take a deep breath and take some time to consider what the ramifications will be, because I will tell you that I think the pretrial intervention program has been a pretty effective one in general in allowing folks who want a second chance to be able to earn that second chance," Christie said.

Questions surfaced early Tuesday about whether the NFL had taken the right steps to obtain the video. League officials said they had requested the video from New Jersey State Police, and New Jersey police responded on Twitter that they were not the investigating agency. State police investigate incidents that occur on the casino floor, officials said, but the assault took place in an elevator and Rice and his fiancee were arrested by Atlantic City police.

An NFL spokesman later clarified in an e-mail to The Sun that the league "spoke to members of the New Jersey State Police and reached out multiple times to the Atlantic City Police Department and the Atlantic County prosecutor's office."

"That video was not made available to us and no one in our office saw it until [Monday]," the statement said. "We do not interfere with law enforcement investigations. We cooperate with law enforcement and seek any information that can be appropriately provided."

Authorities in New Jersey have said that third parties were not entitled to evidence, even after the case has concluded. The Atlantic County prosecutor's office earlier denied an open records request by The Sun for the video and other documentation from the case, saying "criminal records are exempt from public inspection regardless of whether a matter is an open or closed investigation."

That differs from Maryland, where documents related to an investigation are generally available once a criminal investigation is closed, and even if charges are not brought.

Former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, defending the Ravens and the NFL, noted New Jersey's restrictive policy. "The attorney general just said it would have been illegal for anyone to view that tape because it was ongoing investigation so even if they had — that person would have broken the rules," Sharpe said.

"Everybody's anger is placed in the wrong direction," he added. "The Ravens should have done more? Commissioner Goodell? … They didn't raise a hand. They didn't hit anyone. Ray Rice caused this. He had a terrible error of judgment. Ray Rice caused this."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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