Charges dismissed, Darrelle Revis still faces potential civil suit, NFL punishment
- Thanks to critical testimony from a longtime friend, charges against Darrelle Revis stemming from a Feb, 12 altercation were dismissed. The NFL free agent is through the worst-case legal scenario, but isn't entirely out of the woods just yet.
Free agent cornerback Darrelle Revis had a great day in court on Wednesday—and he owes a big thank you to Rashawn Bolton, a friend since the two grew up together in Aliquippa, Penn. Bolton testified in Pittsburgh Municipal Court that he, and not the criminally charged Revis, threw the punches that knocked out two men in an alteration on a Pittsburgh street last month. After hearing Bolton’s testimony, Judge Kevin Cooper dismissed the charges against Revis.
Background on the incident and its legal aftermath
At around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, a 22-year-old man named Dallas Cousins approached Revis on a street and began to record Revis on his phone. Revis objected but Cousins kept recording. An altercation between the two men then ensued and it quickly expanded to involve two other men—Cousins’s roommate, 21-year-old Zacheriah Jarvis, and Bolton, who came to defend Revis. Punches were then thrown. It appears that Revis and Bolton decisively won the skirmish, as both men exited the scene with seemingly minor injuries. In sharp contrast, Cousins and Jarvis lay on the ground knocked out and were later hospitalized. Cousins suffered the most substantial injuries, with broken bones around his left eye.
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police recovered the phone and its video contents. The video confirmed that Revis was present at the time of the incident, but it was unclear if the video showed Revis committing a crime. Nonetheless, and as I explained on SI.com last month, Revis was charged with four felonies and one misdemeanor: first-degree felony robbery, felony conspiracy, two counts of first-degree aggravated assault and misdemeanor terroristic threats. While a conviction on all of the charges would have carried a potential sentence of decades in prison, it was more likely that Revis would have received a relatively short prison sentence or even probation or a suspended sentence. Still, a conviction would have dramatically disrupted Revis’s life and potentially destroyed his NFL career.
Significance of Bolton’s testimony—and was he a “fall guy” for Revis?
Bolton testified before Judge Cooper Wednesday afternoon and said exactly what Revis needed to be said. According to the NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, who was in the courtroom, Bolton claimed that he threw the punches that knocked out Cousins and Jarvis and that he caused the two men’s other others injuries as well. Bolton explained that his behavior was a response to Revis getting jumped late at night by two strangers, one of whom had seemingly just harassed Revis with his phone. Bolton also asserted that it was his voice, not that of Revis, captured on the cell phone video brazenly declaring, “I knocked both of these motherf------ out."
Bolton’s testimony was critical for at least two reasons. First, no other witness, including Cousins and Jarvis, has offered testimony that contradicts Bolton. This makes it difficult for prosecutors to claim that Bolton is lying to protect his buddy Darrelle (or, as Cris Carter might say, be the “Fall Guy” for Revis). Second, Bolton’s testimony makes it extremely difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction against Revis. Prosecutors need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If jurors heard Bolton’s testimony, they would either believe Revis is innocent or have doubts about whether to convict him.
Bolton could now face charges. He admits to causing the injuries that were previously viewed by law enforcement as stemming from unlawful behavior attributed to Revis. Then again, if prosecutors are inclined to believe Bolton’s account that he used justifiable force to defend himself and Revis from imminent harm, Bolton would be poised to avoid charges.
Revis still faces a potential civil lawsuit and NFL punishment—and an uncertain NFL future
Revis is undoubtedly relieved to avoid the worst-case legal scenario of his late night street fight, but he’s not out of hot water quite yet.
Cousins and Jarvis could sue Revis for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other potential civil claims. In a civil lawsuit, the relevant burden of proof is preponderance of the evidence—a much lower hurdle than beyond a reasonable doubt and one that would only require of the two men that they convince jurors that Revis is probably at fault. The two men would also be inclined to blame Revis, who has earned over $100 million in his NFL career and presumably has the financial wherewithal to pay a sizable award, rather than Bolton, whose wealth is unknown but is almost assuredly less than that of the multimillionaire Revis.
Don’t expect a civil lawsuit to advance very far, however. First, to the extent Bolton’s testimony would hold up under greater scrutiny, he, rather than Revis, would be potentially blameworthy. Second, Revis would likely try to settle a lawsuit out of court long before it became a media story. Indeed, before any lawsuit would be filed, attorneys for Cousins and Jarvis would write a demand letter to Revis and ask that he pay a monetary figure. The letter would say that the monetary figure would compensate the two men for the injuries they suffered and that they’ll attribute to punches thrown by Revis. Revis, along with his insurance company and attorneys, would then explore a potential settlement with Cousins and Jarvis. If a settlement were reached, Revis would pay the two men in exchange for them contractually relinquishing any potential civil claims they have against him. The agreement would be confidential as well.
There’s another person who is keenly interested in the aforementioned brawl: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell doesn’t need for a player to be criminally convicted in order to punish him for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.” Along those lines, Article 46 allows Goodell to determine on his own, independent of the legal process, whether a player engaged in any misconduct. Recall that Goodell suspended Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2010 for alleged sexual misconduct even though Roethlisberger was not charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one.
As of now, however, it’s unlikely that Goodell would suspend Revis for an incident that a judge just tossed out of court. Plus, if Revis were more of a victim than a perpetrator, it would seem inappropriate for Revis to face NFL discipline.
Revis, who will be 32 years old at the start of the 2017 NFL season, also must contend with unemployment. Recently cut by the Jets—who will still pay Revis $6 million in guaranteed money in 2017—the four-time All-Pro cornerback is looking to catch on with a team. Resolution of his legal situation will certainly help, but a decline in his on-field performance and slowing of his foot speed are Revis’s biggest barriers to NFL employment. Before the felony charges, there was talk the Jets would move Revis to safety. Such a move might demand less speed from Revis and possibly prolong Revis’s career. We’ll see if there are any takers. At least teams can be sure that Revis won’t be spending any more time in court.
Michael McCann is SI’s legal analyst. He is also an attorney and a tenured law professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.