While insufficient to construct a criminal case, the lead attorney who examined domestic abuse allegations against Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is of the personal opinion that violent interactions occurred between Elliott and his accuser.
Last month, Elliott, the NFL's leading rusher, was cleared by the Columbus (Ohio) city attorney's office of accusations that he abused a former girlfriend on five instances in July based on "conflicting and inconsistent information across all incidents." But Robert S. Tobias, in an email Monday to USA Today, acknowledged gray areas in his investigation.
"Over the course of a calendar year, there are thousands of complaints filed through our office where I truly believe the person filing the complaint is a victim of crime," said Tobias, the office's principal assistant city attorney and director of its prosecution resources unit. "But, for a significant number of them, the reality is that there is insufficient corroborating evidence to approve a criminal charge. And for those complaints that do get charges approved, many face evidentiary hurdles at trial where, as you properly noted, the burden is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
"For the Ezekiel Elliott matter, I personally believe that there were a series of interactions between Mr. Elliott and (his accuser) where violence occurred. However, given the totality of the circumstances, I could not firmly conclude exactly what happened. Saying something happened versus having sufficient evidence to criminally charge someone are two completely different things."
That distinction is significant as the NFL continues an independent probe into the accusations made against Elliott.
CBS Sports reported Sunday that Elliott could face a lengthy ban under the league's domestic violence policy pending the league's findings. Such a punishment would involve less burden of proof than prosecutors require, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ultimately has the final say should he decide Elliott violated the personal conduct policy.
Following the Cowboys' 29-23 overtime win against the Philadelphia Eagles, team owner Jerry Jones confirmed that he recently spoke with Lisa Friel, the NFL official in charge of investigating alleged violations of the league's personal code of conduct, in relation to the investigation. Jones believes Elliott will ultimately escape punishment from the league.
In response, Frank Salzano, Elliott's attorney, issued a statement Monday evening calling on the NFL to close its investigation into his client altogether.
"The media has chosen to deflect the recent negative press regarding the NFL’s reported mishandling of several domestic violence matters by focusing on the NFL’s prolonged investigation of Mr. Elliott," Salzano said. "The NFL’s interview of Mr. Elliott was conducted over four weeks ago and went unreported at the time. As it was then, it still remains a non-story.
"We firmly believe that the NFL should promptly close its investigation which is only open because of their apprehensiveness stemming from the recent scrutiny it has come under for its handling of other domestic violence matters."