Mueller Report: No evidence NFL received Ray Rice tape prior to release
An investigation led by former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III found no evidence that the NFL received video of Ray Rice striking his then-fiancée in a casino elevator before it was released by the site TMZ in September.
The Associated Press reported that month that a law enforcement official said he sent a copy of the video to an NFL executive in April.
The Mueller Report, released on Thursday, found no evidence that the video had been stored on league computers, that anyone from the league acknowledged receiving the video in a call or that a package containing the video was sent to the league.
The report also assessed the NFL's investigation of the February incident, in which Rice hit his then-fiancée and now-wife Janay.
Calling the investigation "limited," the report identified "a number of investigative steps that the League did not take to acquire additional information about what occurred inside the elevator," including contacting police officers investigating the incident.
The report also said that if the league had conducted a "more substantial" investigation, it might have been able to obtain the video before it was released to the public.
The report said that the NFL has a longstanding practice of deferring to law enforcement, which “can foster an environment in which it is less important to understand precisely what a player did than to understand how and when the criminal justice system addresses the event.”
That deference, the report said, led to deficiencies in how the league handled information during the investigation.
Rice was charged with assault after an incident at an Atlantic City casino on Feb. 15, 2014. On Feb. 19, TMZ released a video of Rice dragging his seemingly unconscious then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, out of an elevator.
Rice pleaded not guilty in May and entered a pretrial intervention program. If he adheres to the terms of the program, the charges will be dropped after one year.
In July, the NFL suspended Rice for the first two games of the season. On Sept. 8, less than a week before Rice’s suspension was set to expire, TMZ released a second video that showed Rice striking Palmer inside the elevator.
After the release of the second video, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely. Rice challenged the suspension on the grounds that the commissioner handed down further punishment without additional evidence. Rice won his appeal and was reinstated.
After Goodell's handling of the Rice incident was widely criticized, he ordered Mueller to lead an independent investigation into the Rice case and how the NFL handled it.
Goodell has said that the first time he saw the in-elevator video was when it was published by TMZ on Sept. 8. He also said the NFL was "never granted the opportunity" to see it prior to that. The Associated Press later reported that a law enforcement official said he sent a copy of the video to an NFL executive in April. The AP said it listened to a voicemail from an NFL employee confirming the office received it.
On Thursday, AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll said in a statement to Erik Wemple of The Washington Post that, “We have reviewed the report and stand by our original reporting." She also said the publication does "not offer up reporters’ notes and sources."
In December, an ESPN report claimed an NFL security official admitted he did not ask the casino or Atlantic City Police Department for the in-elevator tape. ESPN obtained the entire 631-page transcript of Rice's two-day appeal hearing and published excerpts from the document.
ESPN's report quotes a portion of Roger Goodell's testimony during which, in ESPN's interpretation, the union lawyer questioning Goodell quotes an email from NFL investigator Jim Buckley saying Buckley told league security chief Jeffrey B. Miller, "I never spoke to anyone from the casino or police department" about a tape from inside the elevator.
The NFL refuted ESPN’s claims about the transcript.
"That is a quote not from an email, but from an argument by Rice's own attorney mischaracterizing the evidence," the NFL said in its statement. "The email in fact explains that, despite his multiple efforts to do so, the investigator was unable to speak with anyone from law enforcement about the tape."
Rice testified during the hearing that he would have allowed his lawyer to give a copy of the video to NFL officials.
The NFL's statement did not address any other portion of the ESPN report, including Rice's testimony that he told Goodell during their June meeting that he hit Janay. Goodell had said publicly that Rice's account of the incident was ambiguous.
In her decision reinstating Rice, the arbitrator, former federal judge Barbara S. Jones, wrote that she believed he did not lie to the NFL during the meeting with Goodell, making his indefinite suspension "arbitrary."
Goodell has come under intense scrutiny for his handling of the Rice case. Multiple reports have questioned his transparency throughout the process. NFL Players Association president Eric Winston said in November that he thinks Goodell’s credibility is “definitely lacking” among current players.