KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nearly a week after the public release of an explosive audio conversation between the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill and his fiancee revived scrutiny surrounding the star wide receiver’s involvement in a child abuse investigation, Hill categorically denied harming the couple’s 3-year-old son in a four-page letter to the NFL.
The letter, which includes a text exchange between Hill and his fiancee, Crystal Espinal, was sent Thursday from Hill’s attorney, N. Trey Pettlon, to Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations. In it, Pettlon asserts Hill’s stance that the conflict was born more out of a looming split between the couple than anything Hill did.
“The secret recording and second [police] report by Ms. Espinal were made during a time when the parties were considering separation and there was discussion about a custody battle,” one portion reads.
The letter’s stated goal to the NFL was to rebut portions of the secret audio conversation between the two that was recorded in a Dubai airport and released by a television news station last week.
Espinal repeatedly accused Hill — who was suspended from the team shortly after the tape was aired — in the audio recording of breaking their son’s arm, which Hill denied. Pettlon asserted that the child abuse investigation surrounding Hill has nothing to do with the injury, which was part of a separate and earlier investigation that opened and closed within three days.
“Unfortunately, I cannot comment on other evidence at this time, except to say this incident has been investigated thoroughly,” the letter states. “As has been reported, when their son complained of pain in his arm, he was taken to the hospital and examined. I cannot comment on what was reported at that time, but he was examined and released without any indication that the accident that broke his arm was caused by Tyreek or contributed to by Tyreek, or that Tyreek was even somehow involved.
“And as has been reported, that investigation was closed with nothing about the injury to suggest it was anything but an accident. Again, Tyreek has repeatedly denied harming their son.”
Letter includes text exchange between Hill, Espinal
The letter also states that Espinal — who had sole custody of the boy for the first year and a half of his life — “has always been the principal disciplinarian for their son,” even though both parents grew up in households where corporal punishment was an accepted form of discipline and both admit to spanking the boy.
“Although Ms. Espinal claims in the secret audio to have never used a belt to discipline their child, Tyreek argued that she did, and she has admitted it to him,” the letter states. “In fact, in text messages between her and Tyreek, she admits that she caused marks to their son’s buttocks when she spanked him.”
The letter also asserts a text exchange between the two, which is related to spanking, happened after the Dubai trip:
Tyreek: “Crystal you know I didn’t cause any bruising or harm to [our son.] But for some reason I still may be charged.”
Crystal: “I know you didn’t. I did. I hurt [our son.] I’m the one that did it. I was hurt and mad at you so I blamed you for everything.”
A message seeking comment with Espinal’s attorney Chris Brown wasn’t returned Thursday afternoon.
Hill denies punching the child
Another issue off the audio recording was Espinal’s ugly characterization of Hill’s willingness to strike the boy in the chest.
"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 in the audio.
In his response Thursday, Pettlon asserts that Hill denies ever punching his son in the chest or anywhere on his body “in a mean-spirited manner or as a form of discipline.” He also denied ever grabbing his son’s arms and pulling them aside to strike him.
“There have been occasions when Tyreek has tapped his son gently on the chest with his fingers, while his son was crying and said, ‘man up, buddy’ or ‘don’t cry, my man,’” the letter states. “He has said that in a calm voice trying to redirect him. He’s never used his fist. He certainly doesn’t do it roughly.”
Pettlon goes on to state that there have never been any reports of any injury to their son related to “punching.”
“These were the words Ms. Espinal chose for her recording,” the letter states. “Because he did not want to argue with Ms. Espinal in the airport, and he didn’t see any good that would come from it, regrettably Tyreek did not correct her choice of words.”
The letter goes on to state that the only thing Hill does with his son that is close to what she is describing in the audio as “punching” is when they are playing.
Hill addresses ‘you should be terrified of me too’
Hill’s attorney also addressed another chilling part of the audio, for which Hill — who pleaded guilty to domestic battery for punching and strangling Espinal in December 2014 while she was eight weeks pregnant with their son — will almost certainly face discipline from the NFL due to his history.
"He's terrified of you," Espinal said on the tape, referring to their son.
"You need to be terrified of me too — dumb bitch," Hill said. “That’s why you can’t keep a [expletive] man.”
Pettlon argues that he has text communications between the two parties that prove the child is not terrified of Hill. Part of the letter states: “It is also an observation that is contradicted by eye witness accounts and even by Ms. Espinal herself who states in text communications that ‘[their child]’s eyes light up when he sees’ Tyreek, and ‘even a blind man can see it.’ Or in Tyreek’s words in the audio, ‘My son loves me.’”
Pettlon goes on to say that instead of denying that Hill’s son was terrified of him a second time, he became frustrated and said she should be terrified, too.
“That comment is inexcusable, of course, and he wouldn’t ask me to defend that here,” the attorney writes.
Pettlon also posited that the comment is “ inconsistent” with Hill’s conversations with Espinal over the past several months. Pettlon claims that a forensic examiner verified “hundreds” of pages of text messages documenting conversations.
“Importantly, the forensic examiner verified that not a single text was deleted so it gives a clear picture of their demeanor toward one another,” the attorney writes. “Several things were notable. First, Tyreek never once refers to Ms. Espinal by a derogatory name, not “bitch” or anything else. Second, their conversations were friendly and respectful without exception even during arguments. Tyreek never says anything that is even remotely demeaning, controlling, rude or threatening in nature to Ms. Espinal.”
The letter doesn’t address the portion of the audio that surely raised the eyebrows of investigators and the NFL in which Espinal said, “So now I really want you to sit and think about it because I rode for you against that detective and the CPS people.”
Letter may show why Hill hasn’t been released yet
Hill’s letter could provide a window into why the Chiefs did not immediately release him upon the airing of the audio conversation, despite calls for them to do so.
When the Chiefs cut Kareem Hunt the same night a video of him striking a woman in a hotel hallway surfaced last November, they did so because they believed he wasn’t truthful to them throughout the process, and the video offered proof. Hunt admitted as much days after he was released in a sit-down interview with ESPN.
It stands to reason that the team’s decision to stick with Hill after the airing of the audio — which they heard in real-time — could be an indication that they had long been aware of Hill’s side of the story detailed in the letter. It could also be an indication that Hill’s story has been consistent up to this point, unlike Hunt’s.
Still, additional new evidence of wrongdoing on Hill’s part could always change that side of the equation, and in an acknowledgement of that possibility, the Chiefs outmaneuvered the New York Jets on Friday to trade up in the second round of the draft and select Georgia receiver Mecole Hardman, a player with similar skills as Hill’s.
Whatever the league does with Hill, expect his entire history — in Kansas City and before — to be taken into account.
Hill became a star in K.C.
Under the supervision of the Chiefs and the courts following his domestic battery plea in August 2015, Hill blossomed into a star. On the field, Hill emerged as a first-team All-Pro return man in 2016 and developed into a first-team All-Pro receiver in 2018, when he caught 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns from the NFL’s eventual MVP, quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Off the field, Hill completed the classes and avoided any additional incidents involving Espinal. Once Hill’s probation ended last August, his guilty plea was officially expunged. Hill and Espinal, who had reconciled, became engaged last fall and she is now pregnant with twins.
After his stellar 2018 campaign, Hill, 25, was set to earn a massive extension with the Chiefs, as sources tell Yahoo Sports the deal had been in the works for at least a month. Then officers were called to the home of Hill and Espinal on March 14, and a police report from the Overland Park Police Department listed a juvenile as the alleged victim and Espinal under "others involved," and those negotiations came to a grinding halt.
Officers were previously called to the same address a few days earlier to investigate a report of child abuse or neglect — which Hill’s attorney suggested was related to the broken arm — but while Hill's name is listed on that report, the investigation for that one was subsequently closed three days later.
After the second call, however, the Kansas Department for Children and Families and the Johnson County district attorney began investigating what happened to the child, and things have only intensified since then.
Call sparks comprehensive investigation
Authorities were summoned to Hill’s home on April 1, when Hill called first responders to report that Espinal was passed out and their 3-year-old son was left unattended. Hill, who was watching via his home security camera, was living in a hotel by then due to a no-contact order between he and his son.
What happened to Espinal that night remains unclear, but Hill and Espinal lost custody of their son shortly thereafter. The district attorney later confirmed that the child was “safe” on the same day he announced he was declining to press charges against the couple due to a lack of evidence, despite the fact he repeatedly said he believed a crime against the child had been committed.
One day after that, the aforementioned audio recording between Hill and Espinal leaked an hour before the 2019 NFL draft. The content of the audio — which featured both parents accusing the other of various things, including spanking the child with a belt — sparked outrage in Kansas City and the nation alike.
In the wake of the bad publicity the league has received, the NFL’s personal conduct policy is believed to be broad (and vague) enough that the league could discipline Hill due to the menacing nature of the “you need to be terrified of me too” comment, even if he’s never charged criminally.
How far that discipline goes will almost surely be determined by how much the rebuttal letter Hill sent on Thursday rings true to authorities and the NFL, alike.
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