Less than 24 hours after a child abuse investigation involving Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill was seemingly put to rest by Johnson County district attorney Steve Howe, an audio recording of a conversation between Hill and his fiancee reinvigorated concerns about who hurt the child — especially after the district attorney made it clear he believes a crime was committed but he couldn’t prove it.
Shortly after Thursday’s NFL draft concluded, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told reporters that Hill was suspended from the team. He didn’t take questions, saying:
“As soon as the draft concluded, after the last pick, I had the chance to call Drew Rosenhaus [Hill’s agent] and we decided that at this time and for the foreseeable future, Tyreek Hill will not take part in any team activities.”
Early on Thursday, Hill released a statement claiming innocence and stating that he’d waived his Fifth Amendment rights to cooperate with law enforcement and answer questions from authorities. But the audio, which was played over the air by news station KCTV5, casts doubt on all that, particularly as it relates to the following exchanges he had with his fiancee Crystal Espinal (the mother of the child in question):
"What do you do when the child is bad? You make him open up his arms and you punch him in the chest," Espinal said.
“You do use a belt. That’s sad,” Hill said. “Even my mama says you use a belt.”
And another, as it relates to an apparent arm injury suffered by the child in question:
“He kept crying because he was scared,” Espinal said. “He was terrified. And what, you grabbed on to him somehow or he fell? One of the two.”
“I didn’t do nothing,” Hill said. “That’s sad, bro.”
“Then why does he say [Daddy] did it?” Espinal replied.
“He says daddy does a lot of things,” Hill said.
“A child is not going to lie about what happened to his arm,” Espinal said.
And finally, the exchange that figures to catch the NFL’s attention the most:
"He's terrified of you," Espinal said.
"You need to be terrified of me too, bitch," Hill said.
After the release of the recording, police were called to Hill’s home Thursday evening, TMZ reported. The site reported that no one was arrested and the police visit lasted about 20 minutes. It was unclear if Hill was at home.
In addition to the concerns for the child these exchanges raise — the district attorney repeatedly stated Wednesday the child “is now safe,” and it’s been reported the child has recently been removed from the home — the conversation also leads to two specific questions that, depending on the answers, could lead to Hill being released by the Chiefs, suspended by the league and/or charged criminally.
Two critical questions must be answered
The first: What did Hill — who repeatedly denied striking the child during the 11-minute conversation — tell the Chiefs ?
Officers were called to the home of Hill and Espinal — who share the residence with their son — on March 14, according to a police report from the Overland Park Police Department that listed a juvenile as the alleged victim and Espinal under "others involved."
If the audio proves Hill lied to the Chiefs in any way since then, just remember that the team set the precedent for how they deal with players who do that when they cut Kareem Hunt five months ago. (It’s worth noting that only the Chiefs know what Hill told them, though).
“We were made aware of this information in real time, just like the general public,” Veach said. “We were deeply disturbed by what we heard. We were deeply concerned. Now obviously we have great concern for Crystal, we are greatly concerned for Tyreek but our main focus and our main concern is with the young child.”
The second question that must now be asked is whether the district attorney had possession of the audio prior to his decision to not press criminal charges. If he didn’t, this could give him the ammunition he needs to do just that, as Howe said Wednesday that he could re-open the case if there’s any new evidence that’s brought to light (most criminal cases in Johnson County have a five-year statute of limitations).
Also in the recording, Espinal said she “rode” for Hill when talking to investigators in March, which is significant since the district attorney made it clear Wednesday that he believes a crime took place against the child but he couldn’t prove it.
Audio could put Hill in NFL’s disciplinary sights
Even if the public reveal of the audio doesn’t prompt criminal action, what was said on the recording could still be damning enough to provoke significant NFL punishment.
Back in 2016, Hill’s selection caused a massive firestorm in Kansas City. Many were furious about the Chiefs’ decision to select a player who had just pleaded guilty to punching Espinal (who was eight weeks pregnant with their son at the time). NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told me that if Hill is involved in similar incident in the NFL, he would not only be subject to discipline by commissioner Roger Goodell, but could also be considered a repeat offender, as outlined by the personal conduct policy, and face significant discipline.
“Repeat offenders will be subject to enhanced and/or expedited discipline, including banishment from the league,” the policy reads. “When appropriate, conduct occurring prior to the person’s association with the NFL will be considered.”
The audio of the conversation between Hill and Espinal — including the threatening nature of the “you need to be terrified of me too, bitch” line — makes it easy for Goodell to make an example of Hill in that manner, especially given Hill’s history and especially after Goodell was crushed for initially being lenient in the Ray Rice saga. And remember, Goodell also suspended Adrian Peterson for most of the 2014 season after he was indicted on child abuse charges.
In the latter respect, the anger from fans on social media about the Peterson incident appears to be similar to the outrage the Hill audio sparked Thursday.
Before long, we’ll see if the discipline is, too.
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