The NFL Players Association recently turned over phone records and other documents that league investigators have been seeking in their ongoing probe of domestic violence allegations against Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott – a potentially significant step in resolving a case that has lingered since last summer.
The players’ union and Elliott’s representatives complied with the longstanding request last week, two people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The NFL has said only that its investigation is ongoing, declining to get into details.
Given intense public criticism of its handling of the Josh Brown domestic violence case last year – a matter that became public only because the NFL suspended Brown, then the New York Giants’ kicker, for one game – it makes sense the league would be reluctant to make any decision on Elliott without gathering as much information as possible.
The submission of these documents now suggests the investigation is nearing its conclusion and there could be closure before the calendar gets too close to the start of the regular season in September, as the league generally tries to provide out of fairness to clubs, though any discipline would be subject to an appeal that could further extend the process.
Players’ cooperation with league investigations, particularly as it pertains to personal information such as phone records, has been a contentious issue in recent years – most notably in the Tom Brady Deflategate case. Last summer, several players accused of performance-enhancing drug use in a documentary submitted to interviews with NFL investigators after months of delays. The highest-profile of them, retired quarterback Peyton Manning, was exonerated in an NFL statement noting he and his wife fully cooperated, providing interviews and access to all records investigators sought. The personal conduct policy stipulates failure to cooperate with an investigation will be grounds for disciplinary action; that was part of the basis the NFL cited for Brady’s controversial four-game suspension.
Elliott, his attorney Frank Salzano and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones all have voiced frustration publicly that the NFL hasn’t closed its investigation, which began after a woman accused Elliott of abusing her over several days last July in Ohio. USA TODAY Sports reported in November the same woman called police on Elliott in February 2016 in Florida, before he was drafted. NFL investigators spoke with Elliott last fall and have continued to seek additional information.
Elliott, now 21, was never arrested or charged in either case involving the woman, who claimed Elliott choked her, attempted to hit her in the face, threw her against doors and onto a bed and refused to let her leave his apartment on multiple occasions last July. The Columbus (Ohio) City Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against Elliott, citing conflicting and inconsistent information across all incidents. Documents released by authorities reveal numerous issues with the criminal case, including a statement from a key witness who says Elliott’s accuser told her to lie to police about a separate incident. The lead attorney who evaluated the woman’s allegations told USA TODAY Sports in October he believes there was a series of violent interactions between her and Elliott, but he couldn’t firmly conclude exactly what happened.
The league also has looked into videos and photos that surfaced of Elliott pulling down a woman’s shirt and exposing her bare breast on the roof of a Dallas bar while watching an early St. Patrick’s Day parade in March.
The NFL applies a lower burden of proof for violations of its personal conduct policy than the justice system and has disciplined several high-profile players in recent years who were never convicted of a crime. That list includes Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Brown, who remains on the commissioner’s exempt list while the league investigates additional allegations in journals and other documents released in October, months after the NFL announced Brown’s suspension.
Elliott’s accuser (USA TODAY Sports does not identify alleged victims of domestic violence) told police in Ohio she was Elliott’s ex-girlfriend and they had previously lived together. Elliott referred to her in the Florida police report as a friend “With Benefits,” though he acknowledged the two had a sexual relationship and he helped her with rent and co-signed a car lease with her.
“I do want closure,” Elliott said of the NFL probe in January, per the Dallas Morning News. “I would rather it not drag on this long. If there was something to find, which there's not, they would've found it by now. “The police did a very thorough investigation. It just seems like they're dragging their feet right now. Who knows, man. I’m just ready for it to end.”
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Ohio State, Elliott led the NFL as a rookie with 1,631 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns, helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the NFC East title. He missed the Cowboys’ first week of organized team activity practices last month after being involved in a minor car accident, but returned to the field Tuesday.
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