In deciding to suspend Dallas Cowboys running Ezekiel Elliott for six games for violating the personal conduct policy, the NFL clearly believed the domestic violence accusations of his accuser, Tiffany Thompson, more than it did his claims of innocence.
But this was not a case of "he said, she said" in the mind of the NFL, the suspension was based on a thorough investigation and credible evidence, including some the Columbus Ohio prosecutor didn’t have, per Peter Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey and one of four independent advisors who helped counsel NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"There were over 100 exhibits to the investigation," Harvey said in a conference call with media Friday. "The investigative report exceeded 160 pages. We also reviewed, each of us individually, the submissions by Mr. Elliott’s representative. We studied both; we examined very carefully the defense arguments, and we came to the conclusion – at least, I reached the conclusion individually – that Mr. Elliott engaged in physical force against Ms. Thompson, and that it caused injury."
And while the Columbus prosecutor didn’t believe he had enough evidence to pursue a case, the burden of proof for the NFL isn’t as stringent as the court system. Still this case and investigation was bigger than “he said, she said”.
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"Well it starts with ‘he said,she said’, which is why an investigation is conducted," Harvey said. "It became a lot more than ‘he said,she said’. For example, it’s uncommon for women to take photographs of their injuries the day that they occurred. She did that. She sent those photographs to third parties. The examination of the meta-data in her phone revealed the date and time on which those photographs were taken. They were taken the same day as Ms. Thompson alleged she was injured by Mr. Elliott."
"Also, there were third parties who observed injuries on her body and in real time, on the same day, she had a conversation with at least one of these persons about the injury and who caused it. In addition to that, the league brought in two medical experts who examined the photographs and offered expert opinions with respect to the timing of the injury. These medical experts corroborated many of the statements that Ms. Thompson made."
It’s also true that the NFL had evidence the prosecutor didn’t have. How could that be?
"Well, think of it this way, various prosecutor offices have various resources available to them," Harvey said. "Some have technology that is available to them, others don’t. So that may be a question you want to put to them about it, but what I can tell you is that the National Football League did investigate the meta-data that was in Ms. Thompson’s phone to determine whether or not the photographs taken were of the same date as she alleged in her statements to us and to determine the date and time of the photographs."
Harvey said they were aware Thompson texted her friends, telling them to lie for her about a single incident that didn’t happen. But he said everything else she said proved to be believable, even by the Columbus prosecutor.
"Her false statement that was revealed was she accused Mr. Elliott of yanking her out of a car on July 21st, really it’s the morning of the 22nd," Harvey said. "That did not happen. And she did ask one of her friends to tell the police that it did happen and the friend had the good sense not to do that. That is true. But as to other statements that she made, both to the Columbus DA as well as to NFL investigators, she was absolutely truthful about them. And by the way, the Columbus prosecutor knew about that false statement and still said to our investigators that he believed her and he believed that the injuries that she articulated to the Columbus DA’s office were caused by Mr. Elliott. He just didn’t believe he had sufficient evidence to prove the case based upon the criminal standard which as you know is beyond a reasonable doubt and that’s the highest standard known to American law.”
Thompson’s statements were corrorobated by photographs and testimony of medical professionals. Elliott’s defense included theories and affidavits from alleged witnesses who proved to be inconsistent and unreliable.
“They declined to be interviewed by the NFL’s investigators, which raised suspicions in our minds about the veracity of these witnesses,” Harvey said. “In at least one of the affidavits that I reviewed, the information was different in the affidavit than the witness gave to the NFL’s investigators when they talked to this particular witness. We also examined the arguments made by Mr. Elliott’s representatives, and the arguments seemed to be theoretical. They did not seem to be supported by any witness, any document, any other substantive evidence. And so as I evaluated the information, I came to the conclusion that physical force was used by Mr. Elliott against Ms. Thompson, that it caused her injury, and it violated, in my view, the personal conduct policy.”