DA declines to file charges against Tyreek Hill but says 'a child has been hurt'
OLATHE, Kan. — The Johnson County District Attorney’s office has declined to pursue a charge against Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill or his fiancee, Crystal Espinal, after investigating allegations of battery involving a juvenile.
“This office has reviewed all the evidence compiled ... and has declined to file charges against Tyreek Hill and Crystal Espinal,” the district attorney, Steve Howe, said in a news conference on Wednesday.
Howe, however, added that his department “was deeply concerned” about what it believes occurred, and that the department remains concerned about the health and welfare of the child in question.
“We believe that a crime occurred,” Howe said. “However, the evidence in this case does not conclusively establish who committed the crime against this child … We feel we’re at an impasse at this point, and any further investigation would be unnecessary or unwarranted.
“Like a lot of crimes, it’s a ‘whodunnit.’ And in many times with child cases, the children can’t necessarily speak for themselves. So that becomes a very difficult situation.”
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." Officers were previously called to the same address to investigate a report of child abuse or neglect, but while Hill's name is listed on that report, the investigation for that one was subsequently closed three days later.
The March 14 case, however, was turned over to the DA’s office for review, and since then, Howe said he’s asked the police department to do “quite a bit” of follow-up work, adding that while his decision to not prosecute the case is final “as of now,” he said that if there’s any new evidence that could be brought to light, he could re-assess that since most criminal cases in Johnson County have a five-year statute of limitations.
“We have a heightened responsibility to protect those individuals [who can’t protect themselves], and so it bothers us when we see something that’s happened to a child like this and we can’t do anything about it,” said Howe, who expressed frustration he couldn’t prove the crime, though he added that it’s somewhat common in similar instances.
“Our criminal justice system is based on the fact that we’d rather let guilty people go free than convict innocent people, and that is the premise we work on,” Howe said. “We have to be absolutely sure in the decisions we make because it greatly impacts people’s civil liberties and their freedoms.”
What’s more, Howe added that there will be continued involvement by Kansas state officials to ensure the safety of the child in question, and that their actions are “separate and apart” from his decision.
“The child protection investigation will continue,” Howe said.
A week ago, a local news station reported that Hill and Espinal’s 3-year-old son was recently removed from the home during a “child in need of care” proceeding, though it’s unclear when the boy was removed or who he is currently living with. Howe added that the child is currently safe at the moment, though he declined to shed any light about who he might be living with, citing the ongoing child protection investigation.
“In these instances, we’re talking about a minor, a child, and … we have to be very cognizant of protecting the rights of that child,” Howe said. “We are very limited in what we can divulge.”
Despite the district attorney’s decision, it’s possible Hill could still be disciplined by the NFL — at least in theory. Since Roger Goodell took over as commissioner in 2006, the NFL has suspended multiple players who weren’t ever arrested or charged. The NFL’s beefed-up personal conduct policy gives the ability to do so, with the most notable recent incident involving Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was suspended for six games in 2017 after a former female acquaintance made allegations of domestic violence. Elliott was never charged or arrested.
In Hill’s case, it stands to reason the NFL could, if it so chooses, use the strong language of the prosecutor on Wednesday to justify discipline of some sorts for Hill, despite the fact Howe said he has not had any contact with the Kansas City Chiefs or the NFL about the case, and has declined to share details of the investigation with both.
“I have a much higher duty to that child than the Kansas City Chiefs,” Howe said. “The NFL has tried to contact us, but I have not responded back to them. They’re under the same standard as the rest of the media, and that [comes down to] whether these are open records or not. I will tell you … the records will probably be sealed because it’s a child protection investigation.”
When asked later by Yahoo Sports if he would consider sharing details of the case with the NFL or the Chiefs down the road, Howe said it would be “highly unlikely.”
Prior to the investigation, the Chiefs were interested in negotiating a lucrative contract extension with Hill, 25, that would have made him one of the highest-paid receivers in football. Hill, a 2016 fifth-round pick who is set to enter the final year of his original rookie deal, blossomed into a star in Kansas City, first as a first-team All-Pro return man in 2016 and then as a first-team All-Pro receiver in 2018, when he caught 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns.
However, it’s now unclear how the recent investigation — and the negative attention it has brought — will affect those discussions. Entering the offseason, the Chiefs also prioritized extending another player from their 2016 draft class, 24-year-old defensive lineman Chris Jones, who tied for fifth in the NFL in hurries with 29 and third in sacks with 15 1/2, and they knew they needed to extend at least one of them before next spring, when they’d both be free agents. Failing to lock up either before 2020 would be the worst scenario for the Chiefs, who could use the franchise tag to hold on to Jones or Hill but would potentially outbid for the other on the open market.
This is not the first time Hill has been under investigation. Hill pled guilty to domestic battery in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in December 2014, as Espinal was eight weeks pregnant with their son at the time of the violent incident in which Hill punched and choked Espinal.
By pleading guilty, Hill avoided jail time and was given probation with a three-year deferred sentence. Hill was also ordered to complete a 52-week batterer’s intervention program and an anger management course. When he completed his probation in August 2018, the charges were dismissed.
And this time — at least for now — it appears Hill has avoided charges altogether. But due to the nature of what the district attorney believes happened to the child, Howe isn’t happy about the inability to hold someone accountable for it.
“Absolutely, because a child has been hurt,” Howe said, when asked directly if he was frustrated he couldn’t file charges. “As a prosecutor, as a father of four kids, yes it frustrates me when someone hurts a child and you can’t do anything about it.”
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